It was a night of wild endings for the Manhattan High baseball team in a road doubleheader with Shawnee Heights Friday night.
The Indians split, winning the first game 7-6 before dropping the nightcap 5-4. Both games were decided in the final inning.
“It was not only stressful, it was crazy,” Manhattan head coach Don Hess said. “It was two crazy ballgames and two really good teams going at each other.”
After winning the first game in dramatic fashion, Manhattan was half an inning away from the sweep, leading Shawnee Heights 4-2 with Jesse Steinbring on the mound.
But the T-Birds led off with back-to-back singles before attempting a sac bunt. Steinbring fielded and threw to third base to get the lead runner, but the ball got away from him and rolled all the way to the left-field corner. Left fielder Grant Herpich got to the ball but misplayed it, allowing all three runners to score and ending the game on a walkoff bunt.
“Late in the game, you’ve got to be able to react,” Hess said. “We didn’t react or think those plays through quite like we needed to and we didn’t close the door when we needed to, and ultimately that falls on me.”
Aside from the late-game mistake, Steinbring was solid for Manhattan, allowing two earned runs while striking out five and walking two in six innings.
“Jesse yesterday was probably the least effective he’s been all year, which is a strange thing to say when he was throwing so well,” Hess said. But his consistency was less than what it had been.”
Earlier in the game, Manhattan trailed 1-0 before tying the game in the fourth inning on a Jonah Webber sacrifice fly.
Shawnee Heights retook the lead in the fifth inning, getting a leadoff walk and moving the runner to second on a sac bunt before scoring on a single.
But Manhattan responded in the sixth, scoring three runs with an RBI single by Chris Klug and a Herpich two-run double.
In the first game, Manhattan got a 1-0 lead in the first when Jacob Biller hit a two-out double, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball.
From there, both team’s pitchers put up zeroes until the Indians manufactured a run, getting a leadoff single by Alex Huerta and bunting him over to second base before Chris Klug scored him with an RBI single.
After another scoreless inning defensively, Manhattan led 2-0 heading into the seventh frame. That’s when both team’s offenses came to life.
The Indians scored five runs in the top of the seventh to stake Henry de Noble to a 7-0 lead, doing most of the damage with two outs. Garrett Francis, who led off the inning by reaching on an error, stole home, before an RBI single by Huerta to score Biller. A Webber single and a Klug walk loaded the bases for AJ Epperson.
During the at bat, a passed ball scored one run, so the T-Birds reloaded the bases with a walk to Epperson, before Mike Leeper smacked a two-RBI single.
But the T-Birds didn’t go quietly, scoring six runs in the bottom of the inning to nearly complete the comeback.
De Noble started the inning with a walk before getting the first out on a pop up. He then allowed another single and another walk to load the bases before giving up a two-run single, which ended his night.
Ethan Fabrizius came on in relief and allowed a hit to reload the bases, with Shawnee Heights getting a two-run double to make 7-4 and trigger another pitching change.
This time Hess called on Biller to close out the game.
Biller got a strikeout against the first batter he faced, before allowing a run-scoring single to make it 7-5. Shawnee Heights got its final run on a wild pitch before the T-Birds grounded out to Francis to end the game.
“We did some things well,” Hess said of the first game. “Henry was in control and throwing a great ballgame. We hit the seventh inning, got some big hits that gave us what we felt like was almost an insurmountable cushion.
“Then the bottom of the inning, I think Henry got a little tired and we just weren’t able to make some plays and they kept swinging the bats. It was definitely stressful, but it’s nice to win, though. We’ll need to win those types of games down the road.”
De Noble’s final line was 6 1/3 innings pitched, two runs on seven hits, with 11 strikeouts and just two walks.
With Manhattan reaching the more condensed portion of its schedule, the need for a four-man rotation and more production from the bullpen will arise.
“Because we’ve had games spread up and our one and two have been rested, they keep taking that turn,” Hess said. “We’re at that point in the schedule now where we will need that bullpen. It was mixed results (Friday), but we’re at that point where hopefully they’ve thrown a lot on the side and in scrimmages, hopefully they’ll be prepared now that we’ll go into a four-man rotation.”
Hess said the team is ready to get back after it, with four games next week, a doubleheader at Junction City on Tuesday and a home twin-bill against Topeka West on Friday.
“These guys are competitors and they want to do well, and like I told them yesterday, splitting with Shawnee Heights — they’re ranked second in 5A, we’re third in 6A — those are two good ballclubs going at each other,” Hess said. “To walk away with a split isn’t the end of the world. This team still has plenty to play for.”