GREAT BEND — The “Marathon Men” have qualified for state.
Displaying unlimited willpower and surviving what amounted to a baseball gauntlet, McPherson’s Junior American Legion advanced to the Class A State Tournament Friday by winning two games, the last coming near the stroke of midnight.
Post 24 thrashed Buhler 13-4 and then knocked off the tourney’s No. 1 seed, Dodge City, 7-3 for the right to advance to Salina.
McPherson will open state play at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Dean Evans Stadium against Doniphan County, which is in the northeast part of the state and whose county seat is Troy.
Paola and Chanute meet at 3:30, Andover takes on Atchison at 6:00 and the day wraps up with the host Salina Hawks matched against Arkansas City.
“I am super proud of this team,” McPherson coach Heath Gerstner said. “They have bought into the idea of being a family and I would be hard-pressed to find a group of 11 guys who care more about each other than these 11 guys. They got to ballpark yesterday (Friday) at 1:30 p.m. and didn't leave until after midnight and played the game with a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm all day. It was not pretty in any fashion, but the way we handled adversity is what it is all about and what we preach all the time. We want them to handle adversity this well in 10 years from now."
McPherson certainly did it the hard way. After winning its first game against Hays, it suffered a heart-breaking 6-5 loss to Andover when it allowed three runs in the final inning. Then it came back through the loser’s bracket to go 3-0.
“This has been a goal since Day One of our summer season and looked a little far-fetched when guys like Alex Sitts went down with injury and we lost to Andover in second round of zone,” Gerstner said. "The fact we had to play five games to punch our ticket and Dodge City only had to play three games was tough, but our kids handled it like champions. We also battled lightning and rain delays all week and some teams can lose focus and energy from those things, but we just kept on playing."
The Post 24 coach said there were several players who stepped up.
“Super proud of Raine Reitsma,” Gerstner said. “He has really struggled with getting in the strike zone consistently this summer and most of it is just how is he growing and maturing, but the kid absolutely competed last night. He was not perfect, but just competed and gave us everything he had.
"We could name multiple MVPs of the zone tournament, but Trey Hanken would have to be mentioned. Trey has struggled at times, but his growth this summer has been off the charts. He came in to slam the door against Buhler on Thursday night and then came in right where he left off to slam the door against Dodge City."
Against Dodge City, Dylan Werries was 2 for 3 to lead the offense. Reitsma pitched 4 1/3 innings and struck out seven. The big inning was the third when Post 24 scored four runs. Alex Kalkhorst and Hanken had RBI singles in the seventh that provided insurance. Hanken was able to snuff out a Rangers rally in the seventh to pick up the save.
Andover is the other team that advanced from the zone.
By going 4-1 on the week, McPherson is now 20-11-1 for the summer.