LAWRENCE — A play here, a play there.
That’s all that separated the Manhattan High baseball team from a semifinal berth in the Class 6A state tournament Thursday afternoon in a 4-3 loss to Olathe South.
Each team had seven hits and two errors. Both got great performances from their pitchers and came up with timely hits to score runs. But in even matchups between good teams, someone has to lose.
“When you get to this point in the state tournament, there’s going to be matchups with good teams and somebody’s going to go home disappointed,” Manhattan coach Don Hess said. “You can’t change that.”
Facing a 3-0 deficit in the fifth inning, MHS put up three runs with a two-run triple by Bret Fehr (scored an error) and an RBI single by Jacob Biller.
“That was huge, and with (Fehr’s) speed, having him end up on third base was important also because then all we had to do was have some contact and we were going to score him, and Jake came through with a very nice base hit,” Hess said. “We were feeling pretty good about ourselves right about then.”
But Olathe South responded in the top of the sixth, getting a single from Chase Hanson, who stole second and then scored after Biller mishandled a groundball and trying to hurry, threw past Josh Klug at first to allow Hanson to come around to score for a 4-3 Olathe South lead that proved to be the difference.
Samuel Rose, who reached on the error, would have represented the second out with Hanson advancing to third on the play, so the go-ahead run would still have been within 90 feet away, even on a perfectly played ball.
Hess said decisions made in an instant are hard to judge right or wrong.
“Hindsight is always perfect,” he said. “Sometimes you get out there in the heat of battle and you react, and if it works you’re a genius. If it doesn’t, people are going to question that. (Biller) played a terrific second base for us this year and errors are part of the game no matter who commits them.”
MHS (16-6) sent six more batters to the plate to try and even the score, but was retired in order in the sixth and produced just one single in the seventh to end its season.
“When we tied it, I thought ‘here we go’,” Hess said. “We had some momentum, but we just weren’t able to hold that. Countless times we had guys in scoring position with two outs, and sometimes we got the hit, but there were several times we didn’t.”
Falcons pitcher Isaiah Campbell earned the win with seven strong innings. He allowed just three runs — all in the fifth — while giving up seven hits and striking out one.
Henry de Noble took the loss for the Indians, laboring through 5 1/3 innings while allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits with three strikeouts. Jesse Steinbring came on in relief in the sixth inning and put up a pair of zeros to give the Indians a chance.
With de Noble’s recent string of outstanding starts, Hess said he knew the near-perfection wouldn’t last forever.
“We talked about the fact that we knew there would come a day when Henry wouldn’t throw a shutout,” Hess said. “I think that sometimes you get lulled into thinking it comes pretty easy, and Henry would be the first to tell you maybe he wasn’t on top of his game today, but even when he’s not, he’s pretty doggone good. He kept us in the game and made some big pitches.
“Then Jesse came in and did exactly what we needed him to do which was come in and throw it over the plate and give us a chance to shut down their running game a little bit.”
While the end result produced a gloomy mood in the Manhattan dugout, Hess said he was sure to remind his team of everything they have to be proud of.
“We always talk in our program about leaving a legacy behind that represents itself so that future generations of people can look back on their efforts,” he said. “These guys at one time were 3-3 and had just gotten throttled by Shawnee Heights. We went on a roll and played terrific baseball, so we told them we’re extremely proud of everything they’ve done, not only this year, but their entire careers.”
After two early innings of scoreless baseball, the Falcons got on the board in the top of the third inning, with Miles Orscheln drawing a walk and Brett Nickle sending him first to third with a single to right. Campbell helped his own cause, hitting an RBI single to make it 1-0. Blaine Fisher hit a sac fly to deep right to score a second run. De Noble got out of the inning when Campbell tried to steal second with two outs.
Olathe South added a third run in the top of the fifth, getting a leadoff triple from Matthew Elliott and scoring him on a sac fly by Orscheln.
That’s when MHS went to work, with Fehr smacking the ball to deep left field. Hanson, playing in left for Olathe South, managed to get a glove on it, which caused the official scorekeeper to give him an error. Both coaches thought it was a well-hit triple.
“Without a doubt I’d have called that a triple,” Hess said.
Olathe South coach Josh Perkins agreed.
“No,” Perkins said when asked if he thought it was an error on Hanson. “You’re going to take a kid running full speed to the wall, and the ball’s been hit 315 feet and tips off the end of the glove as he’s running with his back to home plate. That’s pretty tough. He did everything short of diving.”
Perkins said he was proud of his team for adjusting to de Noble, who retired five straight batters on fly balls in the first two innings.
“Our first two innings, we had five fly balls and a strikeout,” Perkins said. “I pulled them out front and told them we have to hit the ball hard and on the ground, we have to make them work. And we were able to do that. Manhattan’s a good team. They’ve got some kids that can play.”
De Noble found trouble in the top of the first, throwing six straight balls to start the game, but bounced back nicely, throwing three straight strikes to strike out Orscheln looking for the first out.
After a base hit to Nickle, de Noble got a tall pop up from Campbell with runners on second and third, but it landed right over second base, with Nickle standing on the bag and in the way. The error was charged to Giller, who got a glove on it but couldn’t haul it in to load the bases. De Noble got a pop up in foul territory for his second out, and Giller redeemed himself, catching a pop fly in shallow left-center for the third out.
“You have to feel pretty good about escaping like that, but at the same time you have to try and learn from what just occurred,” Hess said. “You get on this big stage and there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of people here watching. This is a learning experience for (Henry), but once he got a little bit angry on the mound and a little more determined, I thought he did a really good job.”
With just six seniors and 12 juniors on the varsity roster, the future is bright for the Indians, who return most of their pitching staff and six everyday fielders.
“These seniors, while there aren’t many of them, are going to be tough to replace, just like they are every year,” Hess said. “Our juniors, just because they’re going to be seniors doesn’t mean they’re going to be great. They have a lot of competition within themselves in that class, they have to continue to get better.”
Olathe South advanced to play eighth-seeded Derby in today’s semifinals. The Panthers, who Manhattan run-ruled 10-0 earlier this season, upset top-seeded Wichita Heights in extra innings on Thursday.
Indians garner postseason honors
To go along with a 16-6 season and a state berth, MHS landed four on the Class 6A all-state lists.
De Noble (5-2) made the first team after leading the Indian pitching staff with a 0.51 ERA in 41 innings. He allowed just nine hits and threw four shutouts with 39 strikeouts. He strung together 11 consecutive innings of no-hit ball and last gave up a run in a complete-game win against Emporia nearly amonth ago on April 26.
Fehr and Biller were each named to the all-state second team, while Giller was named honorable mention.
All-Centennial League honors were also released this week, with de Noble and Fehr making the first team and Biller, Giller and Jake Priddle making the second team. Named to the honorable mention were Mullin, Steinbring, Josh Klug, Ethan Fabrizius, Chris Klug, Mike Leeper, Kellen Myers, and Dustan Whipple.