Facing off against the Class 4A defending state champion Hayden Wildcats in a doubleheader at Norvell Field, Manhattan High baseball coach Don Hess knew his team was in for a battle.
But two dominant complete-game pitching performances by Henry de Noble and Jesse Steinbring left little to chance as the Indians swept, winning 5-1 and 3-0.
“I thought (Hayden) was a really huge test for us, but fortunately we had some guys on the mound that are really making it hard for opposing teams to hit,” Hess said. “We’re real proud, not only of the pitching effort, but we played great defense tonight and we had timely hits.”
In the second game, Manhattan got only four hits but managed to get three of them in a three-run bottom of the third that proved to be the difference.
Garrett Francis led off the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Bret Fehr followed with a single to give MHS runners at the corners.
Jacob Biller hit into what could have been a double play, but instead resulted in a run scored and no outs being recorded, as the play at second was too far off the bag and the hurried throw to first on the turn got away from Hayden first basemen.
Leading 1-0 and with runners at the corners again, Biller stole second and Alex Huerta came up with a two-RBI single to make it 3-0 in favor of the Indians.
Hess said it’s a step in the right direction to get a big inning against a quality opponent like Hayden.
“The big innings are nice,” he said. “We’re not hitting balls off the wall or over the wall very often, so any runs we can get larger than one, that’s a step in the right direction.”
Jesse Steinbring was solid in his latest outing since throwing a perfect game against Topeka High last week. He wasn’t perfect Friday, but he was close, going seven scoreless innings and striking out seven with just one walk.
“Jesse’s just a competitor,” Hess said. “He wants the ball in his hands. It’s going to take somebody really being on their game to outwork Jesse right now.”
Fehr, a Wichita State signee, finishes with a steal in the game but was thrown out trying to steal third base twice in the game. Hess said they weren’t blown signs, but more of a misread.
“When you’re a baserunner, sometimes you get caught and probably the decision a couple times wasn’t the right one,” Hess said. “But there aren’t very many good base stealers who don’t get caught with their hand in the cookie jar.
“It’s a work in progress, but it’s fun to watch him on the bases.”
In the first game, both pitchers put on a show, with de Noble outdueling Hayden’s Brogan Heinen. De Noble struck out 14 in the complete-game win, while walking just one Wildcat batter, though he did need 105 pitches to get there.
“He’s a great pitcher, but with Henry, the issue we always face is we want to limit his pitches a little bit,” Hess said. “We want him around in the sixth and seventh innings, so it’s important for him to get ahead in the count. But when you’re a strikeout pitcher, it’s hard. But he was marvelous.”
De Noble got two runs of support early, as Biller hit an RBI single and Jonah Webber added a sac fly to center field to stake the Indians to a 2-0 lead after one.
Each pitcher then put up four straight zeroes on the scoreboard before Hayden got a leadoff walk to start the sixth that turned into a run after back-to-back singles.
But the MHS came back in the bottom of the frame with Fehr leading off with an opposite-field homer and Webber adding an RBI triple to chase Heinen. Manhattan got another insurance run on a single by Chris Klug to lead 5-1.
De Noble came on for the seventh and despite hitting a batter, struck out Quinton Smith looking to end the game.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Hess said, “but we’re doing some pretty nice things right now as we develop in some other areas.”