One more victory.
That’s all that stands between McPherson’s Senior American Legion and a second straight state baseball championship.
Post 24 was the Class A state champion last year, but stepped up two rungs in classification this summer to Class AAA.
McPherson took a circuitous route to the championship last year, losing its very first game before storming all the way back through the losers bracket to win the title, defeating Andover in back-to-back games.
This year, Post 24 has been the tourney’s frontrunner, as it’s the only undefeated team through three days. Thus if it loses in this afternoon’s 1:30 championship game, a second title game would be needed, which would be played at 11 a.m. Sunday.
Post 24 will play the winner of this morning’s Wichita-Ottawa game. It lost to Wichita 8-6 during a regular-season meeting, while it defeated Ottawa 7-5 on Friday so there will be no surprises.
When McPherson played Wichita the first time, it was a single, nine-inning game and the Aviators scored three times in the bottom of the eighth to rally for the victory. McPherson coach Tony Schmidt used that game to throw his second-line pitchers, as he didn’t disturb his regular four of Caleb Schmidt, Marcus McDaniel, Jack Reifschneider and Jacob Loecker.
Loecker or McDaniel is most likely to start today, so the Aviators will be unfamiliar with them. Wichita used five pitchers in the lone meeting, so chances are McPherson will have seen one of them should the teams meet today.
If McPherson plays Ottawa, it will be interesting to see if Arrows coach Brian Long pitches to Mac slugger Cody Starkel. Arrows pitchers intentionally walked Starkel twice after his booming three-run homer got Post 24 back in the game and Long said after the game he’s the one player he doesn’t want to allow to do damage.
Starkel, who has signed to play at Fort Hays, is 4 for 9 with eight RBIs in three tournament games, three of the hits being homers. He also pitched McPherson to the win over Ottawa by going four innings, but Schmidt would rather have him behind the plate because of his defensive presence.
Speaking of defense, if Starkel has been the tourney’s Offensive MVP, Post 24’s Jacob Loecker should already have Defensive MVP honors locked up. Loecker saved a whopping five runs in Thursday’s win over Great Bend with two amazing plays, then made another sensational catch against Ottawa. With his long strides, he’s able to cover a lot of ground in a short time.
I’ve been impressed with Post 24’s demeanor throughout the tournament. It has played with a quiet confidence and never wavered when it’s fallen behind. In two of the three games, it has overcome deficits, 3-1 against Emporia and 3-0 against Ottawa. All it does when it trails is roll up its sleeves and gets to work.
I’m sure the team would just as soon finish off the tournament today and not be extended to Sunday. At this point, pitching is the determining factor and no matter which team Post 24 plays, its pitching has been extended.
I urge everyone to get out to Grant Complex for the 1:30 championship game. I don’t have the records available, but I’m sure not too many teams have won a Class A state title, then won a Class AAA title the following year.