BY JIM MISUNAS
HAYS — The disappointed faces of the Great Bend Braves Legion baseball team were magically erased with the words – “You’re going to represent Kansas in Fargo, N.D.”
Emporia’s Legion baseball team defeated the Braves 11-3 in Sunday’s Class A American Legion State championship. Emporia (33-10) chose to bypass a bid to the Aug. 3-7 Midstates Regional at Fargo, opening a spot for the Braves to continue to play baseball 11 hours away from home.
The Braves defeated the Salina Hawks 17-4, Olathe Royals 5-0, Andover Trojans 6-3, Andover Jaguars 9-1 and Emporia 3-2 to reach Sunday’s second championship game.
The Braves treated a trip to North Dakota like an early Christmas present. But after playing seven baseball games in 100-degree heat, they were simply too tired to celebrate.
“They earned their way and fought their way back,” said Great Bend Braves coach Travis Kurth. “They won five elimination games in a row. It was rewarding to see the guys change from disappointment to excitement. It will be a pretty cool opportunity. They will represent Kansas with class.”
Braves’ shortstop-pitcher Townshend Kurth captured the state’s sportsmanship award, voted by the umpiring crew.
“I give it everything I’ve got every play and try to help my teammates,” Townshend Kurth said. “I try to exhibit good sportsmanship on the field.”
Centerfielder Calan Haberman made a diving fourth-inning catch and rightfielder Christian Zahnter matched him with a diving fifth-inning catch.
The Braves (31-15) led Emporia 3-2 until four errors handed Emporia seven unearned fifth runs.
Great Bend scored three runs in the third inning. Dalton Barfield, Calan Haberman and Townshend Kurth singled off Emporia pitcher Eric Hertlein to load the bases. Jesus Bujanda hit an RBI single and Joey Soupiset singled home Haberman and Kurth for a 3-2 lead.
Everything unraveled for the Braves after starting pitcher Kurth threw the baseball down the right-field line on a sacrifice bunt.
Riley Wagner scored when the ball was mishandled and thrown away. Wagner delivered a two-run single for a 10-3 lead after two runs scored on a dropped fly ball. Another error led by Skyler Douglass’ game-ending double.
“We let it get away from us,” Kurth said. “Emporia is a great baseball team, but we showed we have a pretty special baseball team too. These guys have accomplished amazing things.”
Kurth and Joey Soupiset batted .400 (8-20) in the state tournament. Eduardo Bujanda drove in 13 runs. The Braves rallied from an eight-run deficit to beat Pratt 17-16 in the Zone Tournament.
EMPORIA 11, BRAVES 3
Braves 003 000 — 3 5 6
Emporia 101 171 — 11 9 1
Kurth, Haberman (5) and E. Bujanda. Hertlein and W—Hertlein. L—Kurth. 2B—E—Douglass.
LEGION A STATE, HAYS
SUNDAY’S CHAMPIONSHIP GAME—Emporia 11, Great Bend Braves 3
SATURDAY’S GAMES—GB Braves 9, Andover Jaguars 1; GB Braves 3, Emporia 2
FRIDAY’S GAMES—GB Braves 6, Andover Trojans 3; Olathe Royals 5, Chapman 2; Emporia 7, Andover Jaguars 6; Great Bend 5, Olathe Royals 0
THURSDAY’S GAMES—GB Braves 17, Salina Hawks 4; Chapman 7, Hays Eagles 6; Andover Jaguars 15, Olathe 5; Emporia 8, Andover Trojans 6
WEDNESDAY’S GAMES—Olathe Royals 11, GB Braves 1; Andover Jaguars 11, Salina Hawks 8; Andover Trojans 6, Chapman 0; Emporia 12, Hays Eagles 0