BY JIM MISUNAS
Larned pitcher Aidan Smyth struck out 13 batters to spark the Indians past the Salina Eagles 11-1 in Monday’s AA Zone baseball tournament at the Great Bend Sports Complex. Larned (14-11) plays Hays-Thomas More Prep (13-8) in Tuesday's Zone 1 championship at 8 p.m. The winner qualifies for the A state tournament at Topeka.
LARNED 11, SALINA EAGLES 1 — The Indians scored seven unearned runs and combined 12 hits with six walks for a run-rule victory. Smyth (4-2) recorded 13 of 18 outs on strikeouts. Smyth and Kaden Pontius each drove home two runs.
Salina's Ryker Greene scored a first-inning run on a steal. Larned's Dillan Smith doubled home Mello Bryant to ignite a four-run second inning. Dillan Smith scored on an error and Pontius scored on a wild pitch. Aidan Smyth's single scored Gunnar Cline for a 4-1 lead.
Logan Erway homered to lead off a two-run fifth inning. Bryant scored on a groundout by Pontius for a 6-1 lead. Bryant singled home Jack Stelter to start a game-ending five-run sixth inning. Bryant scored on a passed ball. Pontius singled home Dillan Smith. Luke Wilson scored on Aidan Smyth's groundout. Pontius scored the clinching run on an error.
HAYS EAGLES 7, GREAT BEND BRAVES 6 — The red-hot Great Bend Braves crowd did its best to inspire a late-inning rally. They performed the wave and belted out “Sweet Caroline” despite a 98-degree heat index.
The Braves placed the tying runner on third base, but came up shy in a heartbreaking 7-6 loss to the rival Hays Eagles. Hays reliever Garrett Wellbrock struck out Stefan Spray to strand Chayse Gruber at third base.
“We had a positive attitude and were enthusiastic,” said Randy Beck, Great Bend Braves coach. “They believed we’d come back and win the game. We had our chances.”
The Braves stranded four baserunners in scoring position. They were one big hit away from a victory.
“Really good teams move runners and score runners and get a key hit when it’s needed,” Beck said. “We didn’t quite get that done.”
The Braves (11-15) must win three consecutive games in scorching summer heat to secure a AA state tournament berth starting with a 6 p.m. game Tuesday.
“The team that plays the best baseball will win,” Beck said. “Some team is going to out of the losers bracket. It might as well be us.”
Braves starter Chayse Gruber (2-4) was brilliant with seven strikeouts in five-plus innings in a 2-2 tie. Shortstop Sage Koelsch and outfielders Jade Poe and Gavin Haberman made run-saving catches.
But Hays scored five sixth-inning runs started by two hit batters and two walks. Jack Fields and Wyatt Crain delivered RBI singles off reliever Sage Koelsch. Dawson VonFeldt scored on a bases-loaded walk. Remington Cox scored a forceout and Fields scored on an error for a 7-2 lead.
The Chiefs rallied within 7-5 when Koelsch delivered an RBI single and Esten Moore and Koelsch scored on a two-out sixth-inning error. Joseph Moeder scored on Paco Hernandez’s seventh-inning groundout for a 7-6 score.
Hays produced the first of four runs without a base hit when VonFeldt scored on Dalton Dale’s first-inning groundout. The Chiefs led 2-1 after Jade Poe scored on a first-inning error and Brad Beck scored on a wild pitch. Hays pitcher VonFeldt (3-4) shut out the Braves for the next four innings.
Hays’ Jack Fields scored on a groundball by Noah Weimer for a 2-2 tie through five innings. VonFeldt and Cox were hit by pitches to end Gruber’s day. Six consecutive batters reached base against Koelsch until Paco Hernandez saved the Braves by recording the final five outs.
HAYS TMP 7, HAYS EAGLES 5 – Nick Heigel and Jacob Pfeifer hit RBI singles and they scored on wild pitches for a 7-5 victory over the Hays Eagles. The Monarchs scored three runs on wild pitches and two runs on errors.
Hays Eagles 100 015 0 — 7 7 5
GB Braves 200 003 1 — 6 4 3
VonFeldt, Wellbrock (7) and Crain. Gruber, Koelsch (6), Hernandez (6) and Beck. W—VonFeldt, 3-4. L—Gruber, 2-4. 2B—H—Dale.
Salina 001 001 2 — 4 6 2
Russell 001 000 0 — 1 4 1
Adam, Hernandez and Jones. Huser, Ford and Jones. W—Adam, 2-3. L—Huser. 2B—S—Greene 2; R—Rohr.
Hays TMP 300 040 0 – 7 6 1
Hays Eagles 130 001 0 – 5 7 4
Rack, Newell (6) and Wentling. Dale, Barnett (6) and Cox. W—Rack, 2-1. L—Dale, 3-2. 2B—HE—VonFeldt.
Salina Eagles 100 000 – 1 3 6
Larned 040 025 – 11 12 1
Hernandez, Cobb (5), Schutz (6) and Greene. Smyth and Stelter. W—Smyth, 4-2. L—Hernandez, 2-3. 2B—L—Smith, Erway; S—Schutz. HR—L—Erway.
A ZONE (17 under)
GREAT BEND (July 15)–Hays Eagles 7, Great Bend Braves 6; G2–Salina Eagles 4, Russell 1; G3–Hays-Thomas More Prep 7, Hays Eagles 5; G4–Larned 11, Salina Eagles 1
7-16–G5–Hays Eagles 13-16-1 vs. Russell 8-9, 4 p.m.; G6–Great Bend Braves 11-15 vs. Salina Hawks 11-15, 6 p.m.; G7–Larned 14-11 vs. Hays-TMP 13-8, 8 p.m. (Zone 1 champion)
7-17–G8–Winners games 5, 6, 6 p.m.; G9–Winner G8 vs. loser G7 (Zone 2 champion)