The Great Bend Chiefs could have established a small community with the number of runners they had on base Thursday night against McPherson Post 24 in the second round of the Class AAA American Legion State Baseball Tournament at Grant Complex.
Through the first six innings, the Chiefs had 18 different batters reach base in one way or another.
All they had to show for it, however, was one measly run.
McPherson pitcher Caleb Schmidt, for the first 5 1/3 innings, was Houdini-like in that he kept getting himself in and out of shackles. The trend continued with closer Marcus McDaniel, who got the final four outs to end a frustrating night for Great Bend as it succumbed to Post 24, 6-3.
“The problem with Caleb is that he’s kind of throwing across his body,” McPherson coach Tony Schmidt said. “So what happens is that his fastball tails back in... but it took us a while to figure out what was working for him tonight and his breaking ball was better than his cutter... once we figured that out it was a little bit better.”
McPherson is now one victory away from playing for the state championship. It takes on Ottawa in today’s 5:00 winners bracket finals and a victory moves it into Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. championship game. As Post 24 well knows, however, there could be two championship games since the tournament is double-elimination and if that plays out, it would be at 11 a.m. Sunday.
If McPherson loses today, it plays at 11 a.m. Saturday in the finals of the losers bracket.
This was a wildly entertaining game as neither team ever was retired in order at any point during the proceedings. Post 24 actually decided the game with two early swings of the bat — a parabola of a two-run homer by All-State catcher Cody Starkel, whose moon shot nearly touched the sky, and a two-run slicing triple by McDaniel in the second inning that made it 4-1.
The rest of the game belonged to McPherson’s pitching and defense. Twice the Chiefs left the bases loaded and two other times they left two runners on. For the game, they stranded 13 runners.
“I’m happy with our pitching,” Schmidt said. “We got through it. We hammed and egged it and we made it work.”
Three defensive plays highlighted the game, two by Jacob Loecker. He made a circus catch early in the game in left field that saved two runs, then a diving stop at first base with the bases loaded in the sixth on a shot by dangerous Great Bend hitter Brady Michel that could have gone down the line and cleared the bases.
Casen Hoover also came up with tremendous see-what-I-found stop at third base to start a 5-4-3 doubleplay in the fifth inning.
McDaniel finished with two hits and three RBIs to lead Post 24’s attack. Schmidt added two hits. Great Bend actually out-hit Post 24, 9-8. The Chiefs also earned seven walks and two hit batters and for the game, had 20 baserunners in all.
McPherson now is matched against an Ottawa team that is coached by McPherson High graduate Brian Long. It won in dramatic walk-off fashion on Thursday as the winning run was scored on a bases-loaded hit batter.
Tony Schmidt said he was unsure who would get the ball today, though he seemed to be leaning toward starting Loecker. There was an outside possibility that he might take Starkel from behind the plate, but noted that would weaken the team’s defense since Starkel has been tremendous in two games as he’s thrown out all would-be stealers.
McPherson (6) — McDaniel 4-0-2-3, Schmidt 3-1-2-0, Starkel 2-1-1-2, Hoover 3-1-1-0, Loecker 2-0-0-0, Reed 3-0-0-0, Myers 2-1-1-0, Saverino 1-1-1-0, Reifschneider 2-1-0-0.
• THURSDAY’S SCORES •
Newton 7, Garden City 5 (Garden City eliminated)
Emporia 4, Oskaloosa 1 (Oskaloosa eliminated)
Ottawa 7, Wichita 6
McPherson 6, Great Bend 3
• FRIDAY’S GAMES •
11:00 — Emporia vs. Wichita (loser eliminated)
1:30 — Newton vs. Great Bend (loser eliminated)
5:00 — Ottawa vs. McPherson
7:30 — Winner of Emporia-Wichita vs. winner of Newton-Great Bend (loser eliminated)
• SATURDAY’S GAMES •
11:00 — Losers bracket finals
1:30 — Championship game
• SUNDAY’S GAME
11:00 — Championship game (if needed)