HAYS — No lead is safe when you’re playing the Hays Eagles.
The Great Bend Chiefs found it out the hard way early Sunday afternoon during a semifinal game in the championship round of the Wild West Fest Tournament at Larks Park.
Great Bend mounted a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning, but home-run-hitting Hays answered with four runs in the first and five in the second and then held off a late Chiefs rally for a 12-8 win.
Hays went on to capture the wood bat tournament championship after beating the Topeka Capitols 4-1 in Sunday’s finale. Austin Unrein threw a complete-game two-hitter and finished with six strikeouts for the Eagles.
Great Bend and Hays accumulated 26 hits — 13 apiece — but the Eagles turned the game into a Home Run Derby, hitting four homers, including a pair from Hayden Hutchinson.
“We know that we can hit with anybody,” Great Bend head coach Michael Stettinger said. “It’s just a matter of being consistent with that all through the game.”
The Chiefs (9-12) threw their top two pitchers against Hays (35-4) — right-handers Mitch Kottas and Nick Ney — but it mattered little.
“Hays is going to hit a lot of good pitchers because they have a team that can hit all through the lineup,” Stettinger said.
The Chiefs (9-12) were living large in the early going. Connor Sell led off the game with a double to right-center field and Dakota Conaway doubled him home with the first run on a shot to the gap in left-center. Jace Bowman’s single put runners at the corners before Mitch Kottas was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Braden Jones then cleared the bases with a three-run double that nearly hit the wall on the fly, increasing the lead to 4-0. After Daniel Herrman singled, Trent Schremmer’s fielder’s choice drove in Jones with the fifth run.
In the bottom of the first, Clayton Basgall, Casey Sedbrook and Unrein got Hays rolling with back-to-back-to-back doubles, trimming its deficit to 5-2. Hutchinson followed with a two-run shot over the fence in left-center to make it 5-4.
Sedbrook’s RBI single in the second knotted the score at 5-5, and Unrein and Riley Kaus followed with consecutive singles, chasing starting pitcher Kottas. Sedbrook scored on Kaus’ go-ahead base hit and a 6-5 lead.
Hutchinson greeted reliever Ney with his second homer, a towering three-run blast over the fence in left-center, and Hays’ lead suddenly grew to 9-5.
Hutchinson, the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year for Hays High this past spring, now has eight homers on the summer, including three against Great Bend.
The Eagles made it 11-5 on Kaus’ two-run homer off Ney in the fourth.
But the Chiefs carved into the Eagles’ lead with two runs in the fifth on Trent Schremmer’s two-run single, driving in Kottas and Jones to make it 11-7. In the sixth, Sell singled and later scored on Kottas’ base hit to pull the Chiefs within 11-8.
Hays added an insurance run in the sixth on Basgall’s solo shot to left.
CLASS AAA AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL
Wild West Fest Wood Bat Tournament
Hays Eagles 12, Great Bend 8
123 456 7 R H E
Great Bend 500 021 0 — 8 13 1
Hays 450 201 x — 12 13 1
Mitch Kottas, Nick Ney (2) & Bryce Beck; Hayden Hutchinson & Jarrett Sanders. W — Hutchinson. L — Kottas. 2B — Great Bend: Dakota Conaway 2, Connor Sell, Jace Bowman, Braden Jones; Hays: Clayton Basgall, Casey Sedbrook, Austin Unrein. HR — Hays, Hutchinson 2, Riley Kaus, Basgall.