As the strike zone became smaller and smaller as the night went on, the number of runs for McPherson’s patient Post 24 became bigger and bigger.
McPherson’s game-turning, five-run fifth inning against Emporia on Wednesday in the opening round of the Class AAA American Legion State Tournament at Grant Complex was punctuated by three consecutive bases-loaded walks as Post 24 moved into the second round with a 10-4 victory.
McPherson will play Great Bend in today’s semifinal game, which at this point should start sometime near 7:30 p.m. The Chiefs advanced easily, mowing down Oskaloosa 11-0 in the third game of the day.
Earlier, Wichita’s Aviators created a buzz with a 4-1 victory over Newton, which was considered somewhat of a mild upset, while Ottawa — coached by McPherson High graduate Brian Long — slipped past Garden City, 4-3.
McPherson coach Tony Schmidt said the win was a welcomed change from last year’s Class A Tournament when his team lost the first game, only to tear through the loser’s bracket and eventually win the championship. He pointed to his team’s good at-bats as the difference.
“It seemed like to me the strike zone changed a little bit,” Schmidt said. “It was harder on Jack (starting pitcher Reifschneider) and I think it bothered him a little bit... it was tough. We had to get away from the breaking ball a little bit. But it was small for them, too. We had some runners on that we probably didn’t earn.”
Reifschneider breezed through the first three innings without a hitch. Cody Starkel then gave McPherson a 1-0 lead with a homer to left center in the top of the fourth.
In the bottom of the fourth, a couple of hit batters, a single and a two-run throwing error gave Emporia a 3-1 lead.
“I thought to myself, are we going to do this (lose in the first round) again?” Schmidt said.
McPherson, though, sharpened its eye at the plate in the fifth as it scored five runs on only two hits. Jacob Loecker, Kolby Reed and Griffin Myers all drew bases-loaded walks as four different Emporia pitchers struggled to find the strike zone.
Emporia did get as close as 6-4 after five innings, but a four-run McPherson seventh inning put the game out of reach, with three walks and a hit batter leading to the surge. For the game, Post 24 was the beneficiary of 10 free passes and a hit batter.
Meanwhile, Emporia actually mustered only two hits in the game. Reifscheneider walked five and hit two before leaving in the top of the sixth and Marcus McDaniel finished up, though he permitted three walks.
Starkel had two hits and three RBIs to lead the McPherson offense, while Caleb Schmidt and Casen Hoover had two hits apiece. The top four hitters in the lineup accounted for seven of the eight hits.
“We did what we needed to,” Schmidt said. “We had a lot of baserunners, but we also had a lot left on. But, hey, a win at state is a win at state and we’ll take it.”
Great Bend, which played in the Hooper Showcase here last month, is expected to be much more formidable.
“I think they’re a decent, mature team,” Schmidt said. “I don’t think they got tested today. I think we’ll test them.”
Caleb Schmidt is expected to take the mound for Post 24.
McPherson (10) — McDaniel 4-2-1-0, Schmidt 3-1-2-1, Starkel 4-2-2-3, Hoover 4-1-2-1, Loecker 3-1-0-0, Reed 2-0-0-1, Myers 2-1-0-1, Saverino 3-1-0-1, Reifschneider 3-1-1-0.
• SCOREBOARD •
Wichita 4, Newton 1
Ottawa 4, Garden City 3
Great Bend 11, Oskaloosa 0
McPherson 10, Emporia 4
• TODAY’S GAMES •
11:00 — Newton vs. Garden City (loser eliminated)
1:30 — Oskaloosa vs. Emporia (loser eliminated)
5:00 — Wichita vs. Ottawa
7:30 — Great Bend vs. McPherson