BY MIKE MARZOLF
Special to the News
The Great Bend Chiefs have just one goal at the AAA State Legion baseball tournament — to win game one.
While a state title has been a goal since the first practice, it is now time to narrow the focus for Coach Roger Ward and his Chiefs.
“Our goal is to win game one,” Coach Ward said. “That is all we are thinking about. We’ve talked about the championship, but in order to put ourselves in position we need to win game one.”
Last year, Great Bend made the tournament, posted a 1-2 mark and went home. This year they will be at home. The event will take place at the Great Bend Sports Complex starting tonight and running through Saturday or Sunday if needed.
It will not be an easy task for the Chiefs. Their opening contest — the final game of opening night — will come against the defending state champions in the Ottawa Arrows. Ottawa (30-6) rolled to easy wins over Leavenworth 13-1 and Oskaloosa 7-0 to earn the trip to state.
Great Bend will bring a 26-15 record to the Complex.
The other two teams in the bottom half of the bracket will be the Salina Falcons (15-18) and Emporia (15-18). Those two teams will play at 6 p.m.
Last year’s runner-up McPherson (22-5) and Chanute (23-5) headline the top bracket. McPherson plays Oskaloosa (11-23) at 1 p.m. Chanute plays Newton (16-16) at 3:30 p.m.
In all six teams are repeat state qualifiers from the event in McPherson last year. Ottawa came back after losing in the winner’s bracket final to McPherson, 7-5, to beat the host team 13-5 and 7-5 for the state title.
In addition to Ottawa, McPherson, and Great Bend as repeat state teams are Newton, Oskaloosa, and Emporia.
The Arrows will be making their third straight trip to the state tournament and several players on the rosters have competed in all three. Ottawa defeated McPherson 13-5 and 7-5 to capture the 2015 Class AAA state baseball title. Ottawa lost 13-2 to New Orleans and 4-2 to Conway, Ark. in the Mid-South Class AAA Regional.
“It is a tough draw to face the defending champion to start off, but if we want to win it we were going to have to play them sometime,” Coach Ward said. “They have quite a few kids back that played college this past year and are still eligible to play Legion. They are good. But they aren’t undefeated so obviously they are beatable.”
Great Bend will put Brayden Smith on the mound in the opener. Smith is 4-2 on the season for the Chiefs with a 3.69 ERA.
“He is going to give us what he can,” Coach Ward said. “As with all the starters at this time of the year, the leash will be shorter. If he is sharp he can go pretty deep for us.”
Smith is one of four starters with six starts on the year. Anson Hall is 5-2 with a 3.91 ERA, Brett Basye 2-2 with a 3.57 ERA and Bryce Lytle is 1-3 with a 3.25 ERA. Brady Michel is 4-1 in eight games with three starts with a team-best 2.14 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 26.2 innings.
Hitting has been an issue for the Chiefs of late but in their final two games of the Zone tournament, Great Bend scored 24 runs.
“We have been pounding out a lot of reps hitting the ball this week,” Coach Ward said. “That has been our main problem of late so hopefully working on the swings will help translate into a lot of runs for us.”
Michel has led the hitting attack this season with a .472 average and four home runs. His 50 RBI are also a team-high. Michel has scored 38 runs. Jared Maneth is hitting .402 and has driven in 33 runs for the Chiefs.
Payton Mauler is hitting .350 on the season with a pair of homers and 23 RBI to go with 15 stolen bases. Hunter Hanzlick is close behind at .345 with 14 RBI and 10 steals.
Also over .300 on the year is Jaxx Hillman at .336 with 21 RBI and 12 steals. Hillman leads the team with 40 runs scored. Smith is at .323 with 17 RBI and 23 runs scored. Konner Ireland is hitting .302 with 20 steals and has scored 32 runs. Bryce Lytle leads the Chiefs with 31 steals and has scored 37 runs.
Last season Great Bend defeated Oskaloosa in the opening round before losing to McPherson and Newton.
Against the field this year, Great Bend is 4-0 against Salina, 1-0 against Newton and 0-1 against McPherson.
AAA State Legion Tournament
Great Bend Sports Complex
Wednesday, July 27
G1--McPherson 11, Oskaloosa 3
G2—3:30 p.m.—Chanute 6, Newton 3
G3—6 p.m.—Salina (15-18) vs. Emporia (15-18)
G4—8:30 p.m.—Great Bend (26-15) vs. Ottawa (30-6)
Thursday, July 28
G5—10 a.m.—Newton (16-17) vs. Oskaloosa (11-24)
G6—12:30 p.m.—Losers Games 3, 4
G7—6 p.m.—McPherson (23-5) vs. Chanute (24-5)
G8— 8:30 p.m.—Winners Games 3, 4
Friday, July 29
G9—10 a.m.—Winners G6 vs. Loser G7 (loser eliminated)
G10—12:30 p.m.—Winner G5 vs. Loser G8 (loser eliminated)
G11— 5 p.m.—Winners games 7, 8
G12—8:30 p.m—Winners Games 9, 10 (loser eliminated)
Saturday, July 30
G13—10 a.m.—Winner G12 vs loser G11 (loser eliminated)
G14—12:30 p.m.—Winners Games 11, 13
Sunday, July 31
G15—10 a.m.—same teams as G14 (if needed)