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Chiefs ride into Dodge City with high hopes
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Chiefs, Garden City preview - photo by Travis Hendryx

DODGE CITY— Wednesday's opening round of the American Legion baseball post season will give coach Roger Ward an opportunity to gauge just how far the senior squad has developed as the Chiefs head into pool play at Dodge City.

The Chiefs are set to play Garden City Wednesday at 2 p.m. albeit a different Garden team from the squad the Chiefs faced two weeks ago at Colorado Springs. The winner of this week’s tournament will advance to the Triple A round next week at McPherson.

Great Bend is listed as the fourth seed out of four teams competing in the double elimination tournament including Dodge City, Garden City and Russell. The Chiefs ended regular season play at 20-18 following a pair of setbacks to Russell late last week.

“Just like I told our players, it’s a new season at tournament time,” Ward said. “Everybody is 0-0. Seeds don’t matter. We just have to go in there and win those two or three games in order to advance and I know our guys are more than capable of accomplishing that. We’ve done it several times in tournaments and we’ve always been able to compete in pool play.”

A 2-3 mark at Colorado Springs’ Pikes Peak tournament a few weeks ago gave the Chiefs a chance to expand the playing field through the final stretch of the regular season.

“We beat some very good teams along the way,” said Ward. “A chance to play out of state and out of our zone really gave us a good scope of the various talent levels that we normally would not see otherwise.”

Garden City had two teams represented at the Pikes Peak tournament one of which defeated Great Bend by a slim 4-3 margin.

“There’s not a lot known about this particular Garden City team we’re playing this week other than they’re the top seed in our zone,” Ward said. “It will be the first time we’ve faced them this year. We had a chance to see them play for about two or three innings in Colorado Springs. They’re roster has players from all over the western half of Kansas.”

On the rewind Ward discussed last week’s losses against a very good Russell team in a series that recorded daytime temperatures near the century mark. Russell defeated Great Bend by scores of 6-4 and 13-6 last Thursday at BCC’s Lawson-Biggs Field.

“Russell is arguably the best team in our zone,” said Ward. “Obviously they’ve had our number this season but I can honestly say they’re wary of seeing us again. If we can get passed Garden City in the opening round we would love a rematch because you can beat a team only so many times. We just need to take advantage of opportunities to get outs and score runs when we have people on base.”

Russell enters the tournament with a record of 24-6 just a pair of games behind top seeded Garden City who sits at 24-4. Third seed and tournament host Dodge City finished their regular season run at 28-12.

Great Bend is 0-5 against Russell this season and 2-3 against Dodge City but Ward reemphasized the new beginnings of tournament competition.

“Basically, no matter who we’re playing, it’s going to come down to who will win that pitch in that inning in that game on that day. It’s really just a pitch-by-pitch drama unfolding,” he said.

Ward highlighted the mental toughness that is required late in the season and added the importance of a breather  before the beginning of post season competition. Many of the Chiefs have been playing baseball since early April for coach Randy Beck’s GBHS Panther team.

“It’s been a long summer and a longer baseball season for most of our guys,” said Ward. “During the summer your looking at around 40 games in about 48 days so it takes a lot out of you but it’s also a great opportunity for us to catch our second wind,” he said.

“That needed rest after the Russell series last week was designed to give us some time off before heading to Dodge City. A lot of people say you need to keep playing to stay crisp but I also saw day after day the heart beats of our players and we just had some really tired kids.”

Despite the late season fatigue Ward noted the steady performance of some of his key players including Brady Michel and  Brayden Smith

“Brady has been pretty consistent for us all year,” said Ward. “His solid play at the plate has pulled us out of some very big jams.”

“Brayden has been one of our hottest bats down the stretch,” he said. “He’s a solid presence for us at left field and actually did very well adjusting from hitting in the clean up spot to moving further down the batting order.”

Ward said he is confident with the top and the meat of the hitting lineup and would like to keep things unchanged in that section of the order.

“The top four or five or even six are pretty much set,” Ward said. “There are still two or three guys at the bottom that still need to step up so we’ll have to amend that part based on what we see in batting practice. Right now it’s pretty much up in the air as far as our bottom three are concerned. They will have to be a fit that utilizes our entire roster.”

On the hill Ward will look to his ace Anson Hall to carry the defense.

“Anson has been our guy,” he said. “Depending on how the set up is in tournaments, if we want to get a win out of the gate, we’ve been going to him.”

Catcher Jared Maneth looks to see action although perhaps on a limited basis following a scare last week with heat exhaustion in the final game against Russell.

“We’ve been testing him over the past week and he continues to show improvement,” Ward said. “He’s been cleared by the doctor to play this week. I just want to feel confident that he’s ready to go against Garden.”

The coach added that Hall’s start on the mound Wednesday will be predicated on Maneth’s ability to work the latter half of the battery.  

“Jared has to be behind the dish for Anson to start,” said Ward. “If not, that’s going to change some things in our pitcher-catcher duet and probably in other parts of the field. But overall, Jared has looked great. He wants to play but we’re having to take it a day at a time.”

At two games above .500, Ward says taking advantage of every opportunity becomes more critical in post season play.

“That’s really what we want. It’s the chance to get into this thing, play the best baseball we’re capable of playing and see what happens at day’s end,” he said. “We’re looking to make some waves and jump up and surprise some people. The seedings are just lip service. I know what huge things our guys are capable of doing.”