Things started well for the American Legion Manhattan Manko Junior 17ers Sunday morning in Tointon Family Stadium, but it didn’t take long for momentum to shift — drastically.
The Blue Valley Huskies unloaded in the top of the second and didn’t look back, handing the 17ers a 12-2 loss on the final day of the Tournament of Champions. The game ended in a run-rule after the fifth inning.
Manhattan, which had only practiced three times before this weekend, finished the annual TOC with a semifinal appearance and a 2-3 record.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” 17ers coach Dan Rumsey said after the loss. “Our defense has to back our pitchers. When the defense makes plays it gives our pitchers confidence, so that’s the story there… you have to make plays on defense.”
Manhattan began the game aggressively retiring Blue Valley in order in the top of the first with two groundouts and a strikeout by Manko starting pitcher Evan Olson. And in the bottom of the inning, the 17ers’ offense put up two runs aided by singles from Tyler Wohler and lead-off hitter Athen Martinez.
But things changed in the top of the second.
The Huskies nabbed five hits in the second inning alone – two of which were back-to-back doubles to begin the frame – and an error ultimately gained six runs for Blue Valley before a fly-out stopped the bleeding.
Manko struggled in the bottom of the inning and went down 1-2-3, while the Huskies continued to find success in the top of the third, which included a double followed directly by a triple. The two big Blue Valley at-bats added four more runs to extend the Huskies’ lead to 10-2.
Manhattan was again retired quickly in the bottom of the third.
Although both defenses kept each other off the board in the fourth, Manko had lost its sizzle and surrendered two more runs in the top of the fifth. Manhattan couldn’t overcome the gap and the game was called after five complete.
While Martinez was a highlight for the 17ers with a 2-for-3 day, Blue Valley collectively out-hit Manko 13-4.
Olson pitched two innings before being relieved by Eric Prockish, who pitched the third. Isaac Leon got the nod for the fourth and fifth innings.
Olson gave up six runs – three earned – on six hits, walked none and struck out two. Prockish had four runs on four hits with two walks and no strikeouts, while Leon surrendered two runs on three hits with no walks or strikeouts.
“We put two runs up in the first,” Rumsey said. “I don’t know why we couldn’t hit them the rest of the game. I don’t think our approach changed. We put the ball in play, but sometimes it doesn’t fall where we want.”
Still, Rumsey was more focused on the lack of defense.
“We just need to back our pitchers up,” he said. “We just have to keep playing. They need to know how it feels to get run-ruled – I don’t like getting run-ruled. So, we need to come out ready to play (next week).”
Overall, though, Rumsey was happy that his team – which hasn’t had many opportunities to practice before the tournament – made it to the semifinal game, and that knowledge was gained.
“Three practices is hard to gauge what kind of team we’re gonna be,” Rumsey said. “I told (the team) that this weekend was a continuous try-out phase for us, to see who my starting nine are going to be, and who will give us the best chance to win. So, I got an idea from this weekend, and we’ll go from there.”