Down one run to St. Joseph Post 11 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Manhattan American Legion Manko senior 17ers’ coach Steve Disbrow decided to roll the dice.
It almost cost him his shortstop.
On the first pitch of Wes Whitney’s at-bat, with Garrett Francis at third, Francis started on a dead sprint for home when the St. Joe pitcher started his windup. But as Francis neared home plate and looked to slide in under a tag, Whitney took a swing at the pitch and narrowly missed hitting Francis, fouling the ball off instead.
“That was just some miscommunication,” Disbrow said. “Garrett felt he had timing and he did. I told Wes if I give you the sign make sure he does his job back there by scooting back and swinging over the top of it. Garrett thought I was telling (Wes) he was going first pitch. Luckily for everybody it worked out for everyone’s sake.”
A pitch later, the ball soared out of reach from the St. Joe catcher and Francis came home to tie the game anyway. Whitney walked to load the bases and Darien Stokes singled to give the 17ers a 3-2 win.
The win gave Manhattan (3-3) third place at the 22nd annual Tournament of Champions.
Salina defeated Hays, 6-5, to win the championship game.
The 17ers gave up both runs to St. Joe in the top of the first inning, as Isaac Leon have up four hits and a run and then loaded the bases and walked in another run.
Manhattan got one right back on a bloop single from Leon that brought Ian Hart around to score.
Leon got into more trouble in the top of the third inning, loading the bases with one out before inducing a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
Leon pitched six innings and gave up two runs on six hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
“He was terrific,” Disbrow said of his pitcher. “That first inning you hate to see them put up two right off the bat. You hate to play from behind in the first inning, but he did a great job, buckling down and controlling his curveball and fastball.”
The 17ers set up the tying run in the fifth with a one out single by Francis, who then stole second base. AJ Epperson singled to move him to third, but then Trace Nelson grounded out to the pitcher to put the 17ers’ chances at tying the game in doubt.
After Leon drew a walk to load the bases, Francis scored on the wild pitch and Stokes came though with the RBI single.
“Darien came up with a big two out hit for us,” Disbrow said. “It’s about finding different ways to do it. We didn’t square up as many balls, but we scratched a few across, pitched well and caught it behind our pitcher.”
St. Joe had a chance to tie the game in the top of the sixth on a fly ball to center field with a runner at third, but Nelson caught it and threw the runner out at home to preserve the lead.
Francis came on for the seventh inning and struck out two to finish the game and earn the save.
After losing the first three games of the season, the 17ers have won three straight as they head into the next phase of their schedule and their first road action with a Wood Bat League game at KC Elite Grey on Tuesday.
Disbrow said they continue to work on improving as the summer moves forward.
“It’s a process,” he said. “There’s about 40 games on the schedule and we’ve got to learn to avoid the lows of low and the highs of high and emotionally stay as even as we can, and that’s what these guys are doing.”