Two days after losing by 10 runs in their season opener, things didn’t go much better for the Manhattan American Legion Manko senior 17ers on Thursday in the opening day of the Tournament of Champions.
But despite 9-1 and 9-2 losses at Tointon Family Stadium, new 17ers coach Steve Disbrow saw some improvement. And he knows what needs more work.
“The improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 was nice,” he said. “Guys came back a little more focused, little more competitive and ready to go after it. We need to improve on some things, and it starts on the mound. Baseball always starts with the guy on the mound and we have to be more competitive on the mound in terms of forcing them to earn things.
“We’ve got to find a way to be more competitive in the zone with our pitchers and defensively take care of the ball.”
The 17ers opened the 22nd annual tournament by losing, 9-1, to the Salina Falcons. Though the 17ers out-hit their opponent, 7-4, the combination of walks and errors by Manhattan led to easy Salina runs. The 17ers committed three errors in the game.
Isaac Leon took the loss in Game 1, giving up six runs in 1 1/3 innings.
Thursday’s second game wasn’t much better for the 17ers, who dropped their third straight to open the season with a blowout loss to Great Bend.
Manhattan’s Jared Ayres was knocked around in the second inning — giving up three runs — but the 17ers got one back in the third on an RBI single from Jake Olson.
AJ Epperson followed with a double and Luke Stegeman had a single.
The 17ers added one more run on an RBI single from Stegeman in the fifth. After the first two batters had balls caught in the outfield, Olson singles and Epperson singled behind him. After Stegeman’s RBI hit, the 17ers had runners at second and third with two outs, but a strikeout brought the rally to an end.
Great Bend, meanwhile, extended its lead with a run each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, and then scored three in the top of the seventh to put the game away.
Ayres went 4 1/3 innings for the 17ers, allowing five runs — four earned — on seven hits with four walks.
Olson led the 17ers with two hits, an RBI and a run scored. Epperson went 2 for 3 and Stegeman was 2 for 4 with an RBI. Hart was 2 for 4 with a run scored. The 17ers’ offense as a whole was better, finishing with 10 hits.
Disbrow said his team, made up of mostly junior varsity experienced players, needs to learn what playing this level of baseball will be like.
“We need to play at the varsity level and see every thing it takes to be successful at that level,” he said. “We need to experience that.”
The 17ers were scheduled to play Hays tonight at 7, and Disbrow was hoping to see his team continue its improvement. Although they’ve lost all three games by at least seven runs, Disbrow said he doesn’t feel like there is a gap in talent between his team and their opponents.
“I kind of felt from Day 1 if we do things the way we’re capable of doing them and if we play baseball the way we can then we’ll be just fine, but we didn’t do that and it showed in the results,” he said. “We can’t get too focused on what the other team is doing. We’ve got to play to our strengths and force them to earn anything they get.”