WICHITA — To have any chance of another shocking upset, the Great Bend baseball team must rely on pitching and defense at the 5A state baseball tournament.
The Panthers (9-13) open against No. 1 seed Tecumseh-Shawnee Heights (20-2) at 11 a.m. Thursday at Wichita State’s Eck Stadium.
Panther pitchers Colin Hall 3-0, 1.84 ERA) and Dalton Bieker (2-1, 1.73 ERA) threw back-to-back regional shutouts against Salina Central 3-0 and Liberal 2-0.
Beck said the key was playing relaxed baseball and having fun competing.
“We played relaxed with no pressure, and hopefully we can do that again this week,” he said. “It’s a big-time atmosphere when you qualify for state baseball. We kept stressing the positive aspects. It was great to see the players rewarded for their hard work.”
The Panthers’ offense is paced by Koy Brack (.414), Chance Perry (.324), Townshend Kurth (.313) and Joey Soupiset (.308).
Great Bend is a three-time state baseball champion in 1998, 1995 and 1955. Topeka Seaman beat the Panthers in the seventh inning in 2009 in their last state appearance.
A low-scoring game is the Panthers’ best chance of an upset.
“The guys played good quality baseball,” Beck said. “The pitchers threw strikes and gave up five hits in two games. We played high-level defense. We’d love to play a low-scoring game. In a close game, you can capitalize on small ball and move runners up.”
The Thunderbirds are a four-time 5A state baseball champion that has qualified six consecutive years for the 5A tournament. Beck believes the Thunderbirds’ experience at state can be an advantage.
“Once you’ve qualified for state, that tradition gives you an advantage,” Beck said.
The Thunderbirds’ pitching mumbers border on unbelievable. Ace Peyton Carson (7-0, 0.32 ERA), Tyler White (5-0, 0.52 ERA) and Zach Custing (4-0, 0.62 ERA) have combined to yield a combined six earned runs in 92 innings. White threw the regional semifinal 9-0 over Highland Park and Carson pitched the championship game, 7-2 over Topeka West. Mitchell Lady (.547, 29 R), Tanner Buckleuy (.522, 29 RBIs) and Logen Brede (.407) and Chase Reynolds (.403, 24 R) lead the offense.
“Their bullpen depth is good and their pitchers throw the ball well up and down their staff,” Beck said. “They are a very good hitting team that swings the bats up-and-down the lineup.”
Wichita Carroll, Wichita Heights and Topeka Seaman also qualified for 5a state baseball with last-inning wins.
THURSDAY—WICHITA ECK STADIUM
11 a.m.—Shawnee Heights 20-2 vs. Great Bend 9-13
1:15 p.m.—Topeka Seaman 18-4 vs. BV Southwest 16-6
3:30 p.m.—Wichita Heights 20-2 vs. Maize High 14-8
5:45 p.m.—Wichita Carroll 19-3 vs. Mill Valley 14-8
GREAT BEND STATE CHAMPIONS—1998, 1995, 1955
SHAWNEE HEIGHTS STATE CHAMPIONS—2011, 2001, 1999, 1994