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Chiefs look to keep the pace heading into McPherson tournament
Chiefs preview - photo by Travis Hendryx

While the Great Bend Chiefs have yet to discover their seeding or who their first opponent will be Wednesday one thing remains certain for coach Roger Ward. When asked about any changes heading into this week’s Triple A State Tournament in McPherson, Ward stated no changes are in the works.

“Really we have no adjustments,” Ward said Friday. “We’re going into Wednesday’s game with the same approach offensively and defensively and hopefully bring more of our base runners in to score.”

Ward’s caution to change in the post season is not without merit.

“I’ve been burned in the past by amending too many things in the first game. We’re going into Wednesday expecting to win just like we did last week at Dodge City,” said Ward. “I’m nearly a hundred percent certain Anson (Hall) is going get the start on the mound. We’re that confident in his ability to get the job done regardless of who we’re playing. We’ll have a better feel after the first game concerning what, if anything, we’ll need to do differently as we prep for the next one.”

This week’s seeding will be conducted in a different manner from last week’s pool competition.

“In the zone tournament we were seeded fourth because of our record,” the coach said. “In the state tournament whatever zone you come out of will automatically determine your position on the bracket.”

While Great Bend is setting their sights toward McPherson, coach Ward reflected on the resilient performance of the Chiefs in Dodge City.

Great Bend entered the four-team zone tournament last week as the lowest seed and did the unthinkable. The Garden City Elite, a team the Chiefs had not seen until last Wednesday, sported an impressive 24-4 season record and came to Dodge at the top of the bracket.

As if a complete game victory by ace Anson Hall wasn’t enough, the Chiefs’ defense aided the work on the mound with errorless effort. Coupled with a late-game hitting attack that quickly sank any Elite momentum the Chiefs stood tall in the end in an 11-2 upset.

That set up Thursday’s zone championship bout against host and third seed Dodge City, a team that shouldered a 3-2 season advantage over the Chiefs. Following a 2-0 lead by the Rangers, the contest turned into a dog fight starting in the Great Bend fifth.

A single by Brady Michel scored Bryce Lytle and narrowed the Chief’s deficit by a run. Dodge City reeled in another score in their half of the fifth and things looked promising for the Rangers sporting a 3-1 advantage.

Following a dormant sixth the Chiefs went to Jaxx Hillman who connected on a two-run single in the seventh scoring Hall and Lytle and knotted the game at three. Dodge City was held at bay in the bottom half of the final regulation inning sending the championship to extra frames.

After a scoreless eighth, Hillman scored on a bases loaded single by Matt Zecha and broke the tie with the Chiefs ahead, 4-3. A bases loaded walk by Jared Maneth then scored Brady Michel putting the fourth-seeded Chiefs up 5-3. Brett Bayse, who also recorded a complete game victory, fired away at the Ranger line up in order in the bottom of the ninth as Great Bend claimed the 5-3 win and the zone championship.

“Garden City had probably the best pitcher in the tournament,” Ward said. “Obviously our confidence level was at a point late in the game where we realized that we could hit this guy. They were the unknown for us heading into the tournament”

Garden ended up defeating Dodge City for the consolation championship Thursday evening earning the Elite a trip to McPherson as the second place team from the zone.

Ward recollected on the hard fought season series against the Rangers.

“We’ve gone toe-to-toe every outing against Dodge City this year,” said Ward. “To beat them at their place for the zone title after all the scrapes we’ve had with them this year makes the win that extra special.”

Ward attributes Hall’s and Bayse’s total game victories to the simple element of rest.

“Fortunately they were in a position this summer to where they were not overused because we were able to stay consistent with our rotation,” Ward said. “They both pitched very impressive games last week and, for the most part, they only got the ball once a week during the season. That really helps down the stretch because your arm is rested and your not throwing a lot of bullets. I also think that by sticking to the rotation like we did, it helped both guys find and stay in the strike zone especially with their fastballs.”

If there is one area of  change the Chiefs must zero in, it’s the amount of runners stranded. In the win against Dodge City Great Bend left 12 runners on base and Ward says that’s something the Chiefs can ill afford heading to the state tournament.

“We’re doing a good job of getting people on base but bringing them in to score has been another matter,” said Ward. “There’s just a certain part of our line up right now that is lacking that needed confidence to step up, put the ball in play and get our runners across. I’m hoping during practice this week, it will present an opportunity for some of the those guys to regroup, get refreshed and rested up. As I said earlier, those things are usually decided in batting practice,” he said.

Ward noted that failed opportunities at the plate will hopefully give some of his players a chance to refocus.

“Some of our guys get down on themselves when they don’t come through in critical situations,” the coach said.

“But this is baseball and you have to learn to deal with that failure and know that your next at-bat is the most important.”

Overall Ward left Dodge City with a cautious assurance of the hitting game but he remains focused on retooling the bottom third of the hitting order.

“Again, baseball is a game of confidence,” he said. “And the guys that are confident right now are able to get those timely hits and put the ball into play. The guys that are lacking confidence tend to think too much and overanalyze things.”

“Timing in the batter’s box is critical,” he continued. “Whatever the situation is you want to think about it for about two seconds and then focus on seeing the ball and reacting to it.”

One of the differences, according to Ward, in the two zone games was familiarity.

“With our games against Dodge, we’re just very well acquainted with each other,” says Ward. “It’s just like a chess match at the end with those folks in terms of taking timely visits to the mound, talking about the situation and  giving your guys breathers. Both coaches know their opponents well and know what both teams are capable of doing.”

“As I said, with Garden we just didn’t know that to expect other than their ace and the two or three innings we saw them play in Colorado Springs. They left us a huge opening on Wednesday and we just ran with it and they couldn’t do anything to stop us,” he said.

Brackets are expected to be finalized either late Sunday evening or early Monday.

This year’s Triple A State Tournament will be held at McPherson’s Grant Sports Complex located at 1800 North Main St.