NEWTON — It wasn’t just a tune-up, it was a confidence booster.
No matter what it did this week in the zone tournament, McPherson’s Senior American Legion baseball team already had a spot secured in the Class AAA State Tournament next week since it’s serving as host.
But instead of mailing it in, Post 24 was declared the tournament champion after it had advanced to the championship game on Tuesday with a 7-5 success against arch-rival Buhler. It had defeated another rival, Salina, 4-3 in Monday’s opener.
Buhler thus had to play Newton with the second state berth on the line and the Nationals wound up losing to the host team and No. 1 zone seed, 9-1.
So Newton will be joining McPherson at Grant Complex in the eight-team field next Wednesday.
“It was a lot of fun,” said McPherson coach Tony Schmidt, whose team had struggled with all three of the zone teams during the regular season. “We hit with them (Buhler). We didn’t pitch our best, but we did when we had to. We got to play small ball and we also hit away. It was a different mindset.”
Post 24, now 17-11, gave up a first-inning run before responding with five unanswered runs for a 5-1 lead after four innings.
But Buhler chipped away with two runs in both the fifth and sixth innings to tie it at 5-all.
In the bottom of the sixth, Caleb Schmidt’s RBI single put McPherson ahead 6-5 and Cody Starkel followed with a double for a 7-5 lead.
“Our guys at the top of the order have really been hitting the ball all summer,” Tony Schmidt said. “Our guys in the bottom part of the order got on base.”
Caleb Schmidt was 3 for 4 with two RBIs, while Starkel had two doubles and two RBIs. Marcus McDaniel also collected two singles.
McDaniel started on the mound and worked into the fifth inning. Jacob Loecker worked 1 1/3 innings before Jack Reifschneider came on to close it out. They combined to strike out eight.
McPherson now awaits its first-round opponent. As the host, it knows it will play the fourth and final game of the day on Wednesday.
McPherson (7) — McDaniel 4-2-2-1, Schmidt 4-2-3-2, Starkel 4-0-2-2, Hoover 4-0-0-0, Loecker 2-1-0-0, Myers 2-0-0-0, Saverino 3-0-1-1, Reed 2-2-1-0, Reifschneider 3-0-0-0.