After a mostly forgettable weekend at the Kansas State Showcase, the American Legion Manhattan Manko senior 17ers didn’t care that it was raining.
With Manhattan trailing the Wichita Sluggers by a run after six complete innings, umpires tried to call the game amidst a steady downpour at Norvell Field. But with a mostly clear radar, coaches and players from both teams instead asked for a short rain delay.
As the rain slowed to a sprinkle, the teams continued the game, but Manhattan was unable to rally, instead allowing another run to lose 5-3 and drop to 0-4 on the weekend.
“We wanted to play, and the field was fine,” Manhattan head coach Steve Disbrow said. “It was a little damp, but it was fine to play and we knew that we wanted to finish this thing off and we wanted to have a shot at it in the seventh. Luckily the weather cooperated and we could get back out there.”
After three run-rule losses in three games over the weekend, Sunday’s finale was a much closer affair, with the 17ers taking the early lead and holding it until a three-run top of the fifth made it 4-2 in favor of the Sluggers.
Manhattan responded in the bottom of the frame with a run after Trace Nelson smacked a one-out triple and scored easily from third on an especially wild pitch that soared over the catcher’s head before hitting the backstop.
But the 17ers went quietly in the bottom of the sixth as the rain started to pick up, forcing the delay.
Once teams were warmed back up and on the field, Manhattan gave up a run to the Sluggers in the top of the seventh as a pair of walks to begin the inning put pressure on reliever Garrett Francis, who allowed an RBI single with two outs to make it 5-3.
The 17ers got a pair of one-out walks in the bottom of the seventh to bring the go-ahead run to the plate, but flew out to right and grounded out to third to end the game.
Disbrow said the rain delay didn’t affect his team’s focus.
“It shouldn’t be tough to stay focused,” he said. “If anything, it’s about being able to get a grip on the ball and those types of things, and I think we were fine with that. The focus shouldn’t be an issue in a short delay like that.”
Manhattan started the game well, getting a run in the first inning after Nelson walked with one out and stole second and third before Luke Stegeman drove him in with a single.
After the Sluggers tied it in the top of the second against Manhattan starter Isaac Leon, the 17ers got another run in the bottom of the third when AJ Epperson hit a one-out single and Stegeman drove him in with a double.
But Manhattan found trouble in the fifth, as the Sluggers chased Leon with a walk, a single and an RBI double to start the inning, bringing on Francis.
The reliever got a pair of strikeouts sandwiched between an intentional walk, but a passed ball and a bases-loaded walk allowed both of the inherited runners to score and make it 5-3.
Leon took the loss and finished the day with four innings pitched and four runs on six hits. He struck out four and walked four.
Francis pitched the final three innings, allowing a run on one hit with four strikeouts and five walks.
“On the pitching side, too many walks and we had a couple of balls they hit hard on 0-2 counts that resulted in runs,” Disbrow said. “We need to get the ball outside the strike zone and see if we can get a swing and miss. We had a lot of swings and misses today, but there were a couple scenarios where we needed the ball out of the zone and we didn’t do it.”
While Manhattan’s pitchers kept the game from getting out of hand as it did all weekend, Disbrow said he wanted to see more aggressiveness from his offense, which mustered just six hits. Stegeman and Epperson each had two-hit games, while Nelson walked twice in addition to his well-hit triple to the gap.
“We talk about being aggressive at the plate and look for fastballs early,” Disbrow said. “When you get elevated fastballs early, hit them hard. We took too many hittable fastballs today. We did have some good swings today — Stegeman had a great day at the plate and hit the ball hard every time up. We just need to be more consistent one through nine.
“Even though we were right there, I felt like this was a game we needed to win and we should win. There were some things we need to clean up, but Tuesday’s another day.”
Manhattan plays the Johnson County Hornets in Topeka on Tuesday at Hummer Sports Park.