HAYS — Running short on pitchers and definitely on fumes, the Great Bend Chiefs were playing their fourth game in two days at the Class AAA American Legion zone baseball tournament on Tuesday night at Larks Park.
It was the championship round against top-seeded Hays, and the Chiefs were battling valiantly against the Eagles, trailing only 5-2 after 7½ innings behind a solid pitching effort from left-hander Connor Sell.
Hays scored three runs in the eighth for an 8-2 lead, but the Chiefs refused to go down without making some noise, scoring four runs in the ninth before coming up shy in an 8-6 loss.
With the victory, Hays (41-8) advances to the state tournament in Manhattan. Great Bend closes its season with a 12-16 record.
Hays right-hander Josh Heifner got in a groove where he retired 19 of 21 batters during a stretch from the final out in the second until the start of the ninth.
And, that’s when the Chiefs tried to bring themselves back from the dead in their final at-bat. Trent Schremmer hit a sacrifice fly for their first run, Sell hit an RBI single to make it 8-4, Dakota Conaway’s run-scoring single slashed the margin to 8-5 and Jace Bowman’s RBI groundout on the infield made it 8-6.
But the hour glass finally dissolved on the Chiefs’ season.
“We fought and we didn’t play our best game, but we definitely played hard,” Great Bend shortstop Bowman said. “Our guys played really well and put some hits together at the end and gave ourselves a chance to win.
“The outcome is disappointing and it’s sad to see it come to an end, but I’m proud of these guys that played this summer.”
It was the final legion game for four Chiefs — Mitch Kottas, Nick Ney, Sell and Bowman.
“I’m gonna miss playing with them all,” said Kottas, a pitcher/outfielder. “I get at least two more years with Jace and one more year with Nick (at Barton Community College, where Kottas and Bowman are incoming freshmen and Ney will be a sophomore).
“Not having Connor (the Chiefs’ everyday center fielder) out in the outfield with me since the third grade, it’s going to be tough. Jace, Connor and I have played together since the second grade and Nick was in the third grade. We played up with him, and we’ve been playing together ever since.”
GAME NOTES — The temperature was 107 degrees at the start of the zone championship game. ... The state tournament starts next Wednesday. ... Chiefs outfielder Daniel Herrman had a couple web gems in the form of a pair of running catches during Tuesday’s two games.
Chiefs 9, Rangers 6
Buoyed by a four-run sixth, Great Bend ousted Dodge by beating the Rangers for the second straight day on Tuesday afternoon.
Trailing 6-3 after 5½ innings, Bowman hit a two-run double and Kottas added a sacrifice fly to fuel their four-run surge for a 7-6 lead they never relinquished.
For good measure, the Chiefs added a pair of runs for a 9-6 lead.
After a rocky start, yielding three runs in the first, Kottas settled in and pitched a complete game while striking out four batters and not allowing any runs the final 3½ innings.
“I just had to get a feel for the mound, and I found it,” Kottas said of his sluggish first. “I just went out there and threw strikes.
“Before the ninth, they asked me if I was good and I was feeling good, so I finished it myself.”
Kottas scattered nine hits in recording a win in his final appearance as a legion pitcher.
Braden Jones finished 4-for-5 at the plate, including a double, to lead the Chiefs. Sell was 3-for-4, including base hits in his first three plate appearances.
Bowman finished with a pair of doubles in three official at-bats, and Kottas was 1-for-4 and finished with two RBIs.
The Chiefs spent the early part of the game playing catch-up. Dodge City drew first blood, touching Kottas for a trio of runs from the get-go.
Taylor Murphy stroked a one-out single to left, and Jordan Doan doubled Murphy home for the first run. It was 2-0 after Dylan Roy’s run-scoring single scored Doan, and Collin Gifford’s RBI single knocked in Roy with the third run.
Great Bend slashed its deficit to 3-2 in the bottom of the first. Bowman doubled with two out and Kottas followed with another two-base hit, driving in Bowman to make it 3-1. Herrman then hit an infield single, driving home Kottas, to make it 3-2.
Great Bend tied the game at 3 in the fourth after Sell singled home Brady Buehler, who had earlier walked.
Dodge then scored two runs in the fifth and one more in the sixth to go up 6-3 before the Chiefs scored the game’s final six runs.
CLASS AAA AMERICAN LEGION
ZONE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
Hays Eagles 8, Great Bend Chiefs 6
123 456 789 R H E
GB 020 000 004 — 6 6 0
Hays 130 000 13x — 8 10 2
Connor Sell, Braden Jones (8) & Bryce Beck; Josh Heifner & Jarrett Sanders. W — Heifner. L — Sell. 2B — Great Bend: Dakota Conaway. Hays: Austin Unrein. HR — Hays: Jarrett Sanders.
Great Bend Chiefs 9,
Dodge City Rangers 6
123 456 789 R H E
DC 300 021 000 — 6 9 1
GB 200 104 20x — 9 14 2
Mitch Kottas & Bryce Beck; Cody Chance, Josh Austin (6) & BJ Tieben. W — Kottas. L — Chance. 2B — Dodge: Jordan Doan; Great Bend: Jace Bowman 2, Mitch Kottas, Braden Jones.