HAYS — Heath Gerstner has watched his McPherson High baseball team battle back time and time again during this highly successful season.
But the Bullpups finally ran out of comebacks.
After Buhler had scored two runs in the top of the seventh inning on Wednesday to take a 7-5 lead in the Class 4A Division I Regional Tournament championship game, Gerstner had no doubt his team had the right stuff to mount yet another comeback to keep the McPherson miracle going.
The Bullpups certainly gave it their best shot. They loaded the bases with nobody out, but Jake Brown came on to douse water on the potential inferno and the Crusaders escaped as they’ll be returning to state, where they were crowned champions in 2016 — a year they had to come back to beat the Bullpups in the regional finals to advance.
Brown, the fourth Buhler pitcher, was able record a strikeout and two soft popups as the Bullpups ended their supposed rebuilding season with a 15-7 record and a No. 3 state ranking.
“What else do you want in a regional final but to have a chance to win in the final inning to get a chance at state and we did that,” Gerstner said. “Just super proud of our kids. These seniors have been an unbelievable group. I have no idea how many games they have won for us, but they’re unbelievable leaders and a great group of guys.”
The Bullpups had staged one big comeback earlier in the game. Buhler had taken a 5-1 lead mostly off MHS mistakes in the field, but the Bullpups took advantage of the first Crusader mistakes of the day to score four runs in the fourth on just one hit. Two walks, a hit batter and an error sparked the rally.
MHS pitcher Dylan Werries was a warrior on the mound. Nearly all the runs he allowed in his 6 2/3 innings were unearned. MHS made three errors in the final inning and the Crusaders pounced on those chances. Werries had to exit due to the 100-pitch count and Jakob Feil finished up.
“Tonight did not go the way we wanted it to, but like I told them if you just have a chance, you want to be in the hunt,” Gerstner said. “We were right there tonight late in the game. Credit to Buhler. They outplayed us tonight. Those routine plays hurt us... you just wonder how the game goes if you make those plays.”
MHS managed only six hits, two by Gunnar Reiss. The Bullpups did not get a ball to the outfield under an RBI single by Chandler Wiard in the fourth.
Lawson Schultz, the powerful catcher whose home run was the difference in a 1-0 Buhler win over Hays in the semifinals, drove in three runs. Buhler will take a 15-7 record to state and certainly has the pitching to make a deep run as 4A D-I is wide open.
• MHS 11, Ulysses 1 — All nine Bullpups had at least one hit and seven MHS players drove in runs to back the solid pitching of Zane Myers in the semifinals.
MHS jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first, aided by a three-run single by Wiard, whose fly ball that should have been the third out was misplayed. Wyatt Seidl stroked a pair of doubles and drove in two runs, while Feil and Gabe Hoover also had two RBIs.
Myers went the distance, scattering six hits. A key was that he walked only one.
• Vs. Ulysses •
MHS (11) — Werries 3-0-1-0, Reiss 3-2-1-0, Myers 3-2-2-1, Hoover 3-1-1-2, Whittker 2-2-1-1, Feil 3-2-1-2, Seidl 3-1-2-2, Whitfield 2-0-1-1, Wiard 2-0-1-3, Starkel 0-1-0-0, Cheatham 0-0-0-0.
• Vs. Buhler •
MHS (5) — Werries 2-1-0-0, Reiss 4-0-2-0, Myers 3-0-0-0, Hoover 2-1-1-0, Whittker 3-1-0-0, Feil 3-1-1-0, Seidl 2-1-0-0, Whitfield 2-0-0-0, Wiard 3-0-1-1.