The Ottawa Arrows had McPherson Post 24 right where they wanted them.
After McPherson struck for four runs in the top of the sixth inning Sunday afternoon to take a 5-1 lead in the American Legion Class AAA State Tournament championship game, the Arrows did what they do best — refused to lose.
Ottawa unleashed an extra-base barrage in the bottom of the inning to catch, and then pass, Post 24 for a 7-5 victory to deny McPherson a second straight state championship.
It was the second time in three games that Ottawa had faced a four-run deficit in the sixth inning, only to pull out the victory. In the tournament, the Arrows won two games by one run and two others by two runs.
Post 24 had won the Class A state championship last year and was wanting to accomplish the unique double. When it punched across the four-spot in the sixth, visions of another dogpile in the middle of the diamond were tantalizingly close.
The Arrows, though, pounded three doubles and a triple in the bottom of the inning as courageous McPherson starter Jack Reifschneider simply had no effective pitches left as his 14th inning in five days came up empty. He had allowed the Arrows only a run and three hits through five innings, but his pitch count read 110 when he finally exited with two out in the sixth.
“Jack was getting tired,” McPherson coach Tony Schmidt said. “What Jack brings to the game is that he throws hard enough and we tried to get them on their front foot with the breaking ball if we could... it was really hard to pull him, but I’m not going to second-guess that decision.”
Ottawa’s Clayton Evans, who was down 0-2 in the count, sliced the lead to 5-3 with his double and another two-run, two-bagger by Alex Stepp tied it up. Stepp scored on a double by Keegan Finch that finished Reifschneider and then Finch came around when Trent Ferguson mashed a triple to greet McPherson reliever Jacob Loecker.
McPherson couldn’t recover from the salvo, though it did bring the tying run to the plate in the top of the seventh, but Arrows pitcher Nathan Roth quickly ended the threat.
Schmidt showered nothing but praise on Ottawa, which gained the affection of all the fans in the stands with the heart it showed.
“We talked about that in the dugout (after going up 5-1) that we’re not done yet,” Schmidt said, noting the Arrows’ fighting spirit. “Give them credit.”
The teams had swapped singletons in the first inning, with Cody Starkel scoring McPherson’s run on a wild pitch. Then it was nothing but zeroes until the crazy sixth inning that produced a total of 10 runs.
Griffin Myers had three hits for McPherson and Starkel had two, along with two RBIs. But Post 24’s only other hits were singles by Caleb Schmidt and Kolby Reed. Post 24 scored one run on a wild pitch, another on catcher’s interference and a third on an error other than Starkel’s two-run single.
Ottawa finished with nine hits, including three for Finch, who had four in the 13-5 win that forced Sunday’s extra game.
McPherson finished the year 20-13 and could return practically this very same team next year. Ottawa will lose the bulk of its core group.
“We’re one more pitcher away,” Schmidt said. “The last quarter of the season we got better because halfway through the season me and Scotty (assistant coach Graham) were talking and saying, “man, we need to go. And we did. We showed up at zone (at Newton) with a little bit of time to rest and we played pretty good after that.’”
Ottawa moves on to Conway, Ark., as the Kansas regional representative.
McPherson (5) —Starkel 3-1-2-2, Schmidt 3-0-1-1, McDaniel 3-0-0-0, Hoover 4-1-0-0, Loecker 3-0-0-0, Myers 4-0-3-0, Reed 2-1-1-0, Saverino 2-1-0-1, Reifschneider 3-1-0-0.
Ottawa (7) — C. Stepp 4-1-1-0, Finch 3-1-3-1, Ferguson 4-0-1-1, D. Jung 4-1-1-1, T. Jung 3-1-1-0, Roth 2-0-0-0, Evans 3-1-1-1, Medlin 2-0-0-0, Snider 0-1-0-0, A. Stepp 2-1-1-2