Great Bend baseball coach Randy Beck knew Arkansas City’s Hunter O’Toole was an effective pitcher. O’Toole lived up to his reputation with a dominating 2-1 victory over the Panthers in the Class 5A regional at the Great Bend Sports Complex.
O’Toole ended the Panthers’ hopes of qualifying for the Class 5A state baseball tournament with a solid six-strikeout performance. He worked an effective slider as his best pitch while working ahead with his fastball. The top-seeded Panthers (16-5) hit seven pop fly outs and several routine groundouts.
Maize High (16-6) beat Arkansas City 7-1 in the championship game after shutting out Liberal 4-0 in the opener. Starters Josh Short and Jake Derflinger yielded one run.
Brady Michel scored the Panthers’ sixth-inning run on a wild pitch when a strikeout pitch eluded catcher Zach Combs. O’Toole retired Brayden Smith on a pop fly to strand Payton Mauler.
The Panthers’ Anson Hall walked and Jaxx Hillman singled with two out in the third inning. Third baseman Jacob Whitfield made a solid defendive play on Konner Ireland’s hard grounder to end the inning. The Panthers featured six baserunners in seven innings. Whitfield also handled a perfect soxth-inning bunt attempt by Ireland flawlessly.
“O’Toole threw a really nice game, working two pitches in the strike zone,” Beck said. “We knew he was good. Unfortunately, our bats went dead at the wrong time. We tried to shorten up our swings and look for the fastball early in the count. We tried to get on his fastball.”
The Bulldogs scored two unearned runs off hard-luck losing pitcher Brett Basye. With two out, Evan Miller singled and moved to second base on a wild pitch. Miller scored on a throwing error and O’Toole singled home Whitford for a 2-0 lead. Reliever Bryce Lytle struck out four of five batters.
“We battled and had the tying runner on base. It’s too bad you give up two runs and end up losing,” Beck said. “We tried to steal one time, but fouled the pitch off.”
Panther second baseman Jaxx Hillman turned a line drive into a first-inning double play. Left fielder Payton Mauler and shortstop Bryce Lytle relayed to catcher Jared Maneth to tag couresy runner Chase Watkins out at home in the fourth inning. Mikeal Segree’s hit bounced off the left-field fence, but Watkins stayed at second base until the ball dropped.
“That’s the huge play — a momentum-swinger,” Beck said. “But we couldn’t get anything going on offense. we didn’t put too much pressure on them.”