For four innings Wednesday at Grant Complex, the McPherson Senior American Legion’s regular-season domination of Emporia meant absolutely bupkis in its Class AAA State Tournament opener at Grant Complex.
Post 24, which had outscored Emporia 36-13 in winning three of four games, found itself behind 3-1 and doubt could have crept in, especially since the team knew that Newton, one of the favorites in pre-tournament talk, had been surprised 4-1 by the Wichita Aviators in the first game of the day.
But this team has been through a lot of big games, beginning with last summer’s historic run through the losers bracket of the Class A State Tournament that was culminated by back-to-back wins over Andover to capture the championship. Add in winning two games in the Class 4A Division I State Tournament to make the finals and Post 24 certainly had a lot of experience to draw on as it faced the surprising two-run deficit.
McPherson eventually solved Emporia’s pitching by basically just standing at the plate and watching ball after ball. Three straight bases-loaded walks were the springboard to a five-run fifth inning and 6-3 lead, which eventually resulted in the 10-4 victory.
Post 24 was able to survive and advance even without its “A” game. It really didn’t get its “small-ball” style out of neutral and also made a couple of bad decisions defensively, including an error and missing a cutoff man in Post 5’s one big inning, the three-run fourth.
McPherson starting pitcher Jack Reifschneider was sharp early, holding Post 5 without a hit through three innings and displaying pinpoint accuracy, which was needed since the strike zone seemed to shrivel up the later the game went.
But Reifschneider got a little crooked in the fourth by hitting back-to-back batters, and then a single and two-run error pushed Emporia to a 3-1 lead and the word “upset” started to filter through the crowd, mostly on Emporia’s side.
Reifschneider would allow only one hit in five innings, plus one batter in the sixth. He would walk five and hit two, but knuckled down when needed. Marcus McDaniel also found the strike zone rather stringent, walking three in his two innings, but he worked around the potential land mines to nail it down.
Post 24 coach Tony Schmidt admitted it was more of a struggle than he had expected, but gave kudos to his team for its patience. McPherson hitters worked the counts against the parade of Post 5 pitchers, five in all. Ten walks and a hit batter, along with eight hits, allowed McPherson to litter the bases with runners, though it left a small village on.
Post 24’s one big hit was a homer by All-State catcher Cody Starkel, who came up huge as expected with three RBIs. The top four in the order accounted for seven of McPherson’s eight hits, while the bottom half was able to provide three runs by walking.
McPherson will have a tough test today with Great Bend. The Chiefs appear to be an older, more mature team that was offered little resistance by an Oskaloosa unit that looked younger than any team in the tourney. Post 24 will have to be on top of its game tonight if it wants to stay in the winners bracket.