Bluejays earn Regional Championship, State tournament berth
After earning a Big Seven League title — finishing with a 12-2 record — the Bluejays had their focus turned towards their next biggest challenge in the Regional playoffs. Spring weather is unpredictable and this year was no exception, with heavy rains postponing the tournament’s planned start from Monday, May 15, to Wednesday, May 17.
The benefits of the rain are obvious when living in Kansas, but it also gave the Jays the benefit of playing two of the games at home before qualifying for the championship game. Sabetha traveled to Seneca on Thursday, May 18, to take on the Nemaha Central Thunder in the finals They captured the Regional championship and earned a trip to the State tournament.
“In all three games of regionals, we had some ups and downs,” Head Coach Curtis Hamilton said.
“We came out a little flat against Riley County, but did end up with over 10 hits, so we got it going. Their pitcher kept us off balance with changing speeds and it took us awhile to adjust. The same can be said about the Rossville game,” Coach Hamilton said.
The Bluejays used two pitchers in the contest against the Riley County Falcons on Wednesday, May 17, to pitch a no-hit win in the opening round of Regionals. Junior Marcus Bauman took the hill to start the contest and walked the first three batters that he faced in succession. Bauman worked his way out of the jam when he fanned the next three batters to escape the bottom half of the first inning without any damage.
Bauman pitched three innings, allowing two runs with no hits, with only one run earned, and he walked seven and struck out four to pick up the win. Junior Will Ulrich closed out the contest, giving up no runs and no hits, walking two and fanning one.
The Bluejays put the first tally on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first inning when senior lead-off hitter Joshua Herrmann was hit by a pitch to take first and Bauman smashed a line drive to left field for a double to put two runners in scoring position. Sophomore Mitchel Kramer walked to load the bases and junior Chase Frey walked to bring in the Jays’ first run of the game.
Senior Nohl Niehues was hit by a pitch to plate another run and junior Aiden Lang took a base on balls to score the third run of the inning. Frey crossed the plate when Ulrich was hit by a pitch, and Sabetha took a 4-0 lead at the end of the first.
After scoring a run in the second, third and fourth innings, the Bluejays led 7-2 in the top of the fifth. Junior Christian McAfee led off in the bottom of the fifth and took a base on balls and logged a stolen base to stand on second base. Kramer earned an RBI single with a ground ball to plate McAfee. Kramer scored after stealing second and Frey swatted a line drive to left for a single. Niehues reached first on an error and Frey scored on a passed ball to make the tally 10-2. Ulrich plated two runs on a hard hit ground ball to center, and the Jays 10-runned the Falcons 12-2, to advance to the semi-finals.
Senior Noah Kroll was two for two with an RBI for the game, while Bauman went two for three with a double and a single and scored two runs. Ulrich was two for three with a double and a single, one run scored and four RBIs. Frey finished with two runs scored, two stolen bases and three RBIs with his one-for-three at-bat performance.
“In the Riley [County] game, we struggled to find the zone but we kept competing. I felt Will Ulrich came in and gave us some good innings pitching,” Coach Hamilton said.
“We came out and scored two runs early, but then we couldn’t adjust to the pitching and we struggled to get hits,” Coach Hamilton said. “It’s regionals and that tends to happen every year. Every team is going to compete at a high level because they don’t want their season to end.”
Lang was on the mound for the Bluejays to start the game and held the Bulldogs scoreless through the first four innings. He allowed two runs on four hits in five innings of work, walking three and striking out one. Frey came in to close out the contest, blanking Rossville while not allowing a walk and striking out one.
“I thought we pitched really well in the Rossville game. Aidan Lang did a great job, and then Chase Frey came in and shut the door on them,” Coach Hamilton said.
Rossville had two base on balls and one strikeout in the top of the first, and the Jays used their defense to keep their opponents scoreless in opening frame. Herrmann and Bauman both lined out to start the bottom half of the inning, but McAfee found first on a line drive to right and then took second on a error. Kramer singled to left to score McAfee and then Frey doubled with a bullet to left that plated Kramer to give Sabetha a 2-0 advantage.
The score stalemated at 2-0, with the Jays leading, headed into the fifth inning. In the top of the fifth, the Bulldogs led off with a fly-out but then logged their first hit of the night with a single on a line drive to center field. A Bluejay error put the Bulldogs on first and second, and another single and an error plated two runs to tie the score, 2-2, through the top of the sixth inning.
McAfee singled to center field in the bottom of the sixth, but was thrown out on a fielder’s choice from a hard-hit ground ball by Kramer. Kramer stole second and Frey reached first on a Rossville error to put runners at first and second. Niehues popped out with a fly ball, and Kramer tagged and crossed the plate to give the Jays a 3-2 bump at the end of the sixth inning.
Frey kept the Bulldogs’ bats in check, forcing two ground outs and fanning the final batters to close out the contest, giving Sabetha the 3-2 victory and a berth to the Regional championship against Nemaha Central.
McAfee was two for three with one run scored. Kramer scored two runs, had an RBI and stole three bases. Frey inked an RBI with his double in the bottom of the first.
Sabetha traveled to the Regional host school and championship game qualifier, Nemaha Central, to decide who would close out their season and who would continue on to State.
“In the championship game, we hit the best we have all year,” Coach Hamilton said. “They threw their best pitcher and we put up 11 runs on him, ended the game with 20 hits with five of those being doubles. It was a great game at the plate and our guys rose to the challenge. Our guys really wanted that win and were extremely motivated.”
The Jays plated five runs through the first two innings and led 5-1 at the end of three. Herrmann led off in the bottom of the first and sent a shot to deep right field for a double. A Thunder double play cleared the bases before McAfee singled to left and advanced to second on an error to put himself in scoring position. Frey had a fly-ball single to bring McAfee home and put Kramer on third after he took a base on balls, but a strikeout left Kramer stranded, and the Jays led 1-0 at the end of the first.
Sabetha plated four runs after leading off the bottom of the second with a base hit from junior Jacob Grimm and Lang, as well as an RBI single from senior Matthew Garber. Lang would score on a Nemaha Central error, senior Nathan Voos scored off a Kramer single and Bauman plated on a base hit from Frey. The Jays took a 5-0 lead heading into the third.
The Jays gave up one run in the top of the third and three runs in the top of the fourth to whittle their lead down, 5-4. Sabetha’s offense had a prolific bottom of the fourth when they brought six runs across the plate to bolster their advantage on Bauman’s RBI double, and Grimm and Garber’s two RBI singles. The Bluejays led 11-4 with three innings to play.
The Thunder managed four points in the top of the fifth and two in the top of the sixth, but Sabetha added some insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth and would take the victory 14-10 over Nemaha Central, to capture the championship.
McAfee took the helm as the hurler to start the contest, pitching four innings, allowing seven runs on three hits, walking six while fanning five. Herrmann had two innings of work on the hill and gave two runs on one hit, walking two and striking out one, and Frey logged one inning, allowing one run on one hit, striking out one and giving no free bases.
Bauman was three for five from the box with a pair of doubles, scoring two runs and adding an RBI, Herrmann was three for five with a double and a pair of base hits, Kramer was three for three with a double to his record, having two runs scored and an RBI, and Frey was two of four at the plate with two RBIs in the win.
“Pitching-wise, we struggled but found a way to win in the end,” Coach Hamilton said. “Christian [McAfee] battled with some control issues in the middle innings but did well to start the game giving us a chance to get the lead which we never relinquished. Chase [Frey] and Josh [Herrmann] came in and kept them from coming all the way back, so again, we competed enough to get the win, which is all that matters in playoff baseball.”
With the Regional Championship in the trophy case, the Bluejays will travel to Manhattan on Thursday, May 25, for opening round action in the State tournament. The Jays will meet the number four seed, the 19-4 Wichita Collegiate Spartans in their first game of the championship playoff at Kansas State University’s Tointon Family Stadium.