McPherson’s Senior American Legion baseball team has traveled a different path to the state championship game this year.
Post 24, which lost the first game in the Class A State Tournament last year before roaring all the way back to win the championship, has survived three tough games to make the finals in the Class AAA tournament at Grant Complex, with today’s 7-5 victory over Ottawa assuring it that it won’t have to exhaust its pitching staff in the losers bracket.
McPherson plays for the championship at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Wichita plays Ottawa at 11:00 Saturday morning for the right to play Post 24.
For the second time in three games, McPherson had to dig itself out of an early hole. Some shaky defense in the first two innings allowed the Arrows to pile up a 3-0 cushion, but Cody Starkel erased that in the third inning with one swing of the bat, smoking his third homer in as many games, this one a three-run jack.
“We got past that first inning with three or four boots,” McPherson coach Tony Schmidt said. “But Cody sparked us again with a nice home run and it was a new ballgame, just like starting over.”
“The thing about that kid is that he’s a stud,” said Ottawa coach Brian Long, who is a 1994 McPherson High graduate. “That’s what studs do. He was one kid we came in saying that he can’t beat us and we leave a ball up and he blasted it. I don’t think it would have landed had he gotten some air under it. I sure wasn’t going to give him another pitch to hit (after that).”
It stayed at 3-3 until the top of the fifth when the visiting Post 24 put up three runs, two of them scoring on Alex Kalkhorst’s two-run single up the middle. Marcus McDaniel added an RBI single in the inning to push the lead to 6-3.
McPherson made it 7-3 in the sixth when Kolby Reed’s bunt single was thrown away, allowing Mikey Saverino to motor home all the way from first.
Things got tense in the seventh when the Arrows plated two runs and had the tying runs on base. But Jack Reifschneider, who relieved Starkel after four innings, struck out Clayton Evans and a huge exhale could be heard from the McPherson fandom.
“I didn’t think we’d get that many (four) innings from him,” Schmidt said of Starkel, since he hadn’t pitched much all summer. “He settled down, but he hadn’t had a lot of experience with his breaking ball and he had to establish that because he hadn’t thrown it forever. He did a good job today.”
Reifschneider had to work out of trouble in his three innings, but the defense backed him including a nice doubleplay to end the sixth inning that was made by Saverino, who took a grounder, stepped on second for one out and threw to first to complete the twinkilling.
Post 24 actually left a lot of scoring opportunities on the table. It stranded 14 runners on base, twice leaving the bases loaded and three times leaving two on.
“When we played Great Bend, they left 14 on (and lost),” Schmidt said. “We left 14... so that’s baseball.”
McDaniel had three hits, and Kalkhorst and Jacob Loecker had two. Kalkhorst had played for the Junior team and was added to give the Seniors some depth. With Starkel pitching, he caught the first four innings. Starkel drove in three runs with his homer and easily has been the most outstanding player in the tournament.
Schmidt said he was unsure who would pitch Saturday, as Loecker and McDaniel could share the duties. He added that Reifschneider probably has fired all his bullets, while Caleb Schmidt might be available for spot duty.
McPherson (7) — McDaniel 5-1-3-1, Schmidt 4-1-1-0, Starkel 3-1-1-3, Hoover 5-0-0-0, Loecker 3-1-2-0, Myers 3-0-1-0, Saverino 2-2-1-0, Kalkhorst 3-0-2-2, Reed 1-1-0, Reifschneider 3-0-1-0.
• FRIDAY’S SCORES •
Wichita 5, Emporia 4
Newton 9, Great Bend 1
McPherson 7, Ottawa 5
Wichita 10, Newton 7