Manko Juniors drop a pair on Friday, losing 9-8 and 5-3

By Brady Bauman

After beginning the 20th Annual Tournament of Champions with a Thursday win against the Salina Hawks, the American Legion Manhattan Manko Junior 17ers didn’t have the same results Friday.

Manko dropped the early game of the day 9-8 to the Junction City Bluejays at Norvell Field and lost again later in the afternoon 5-3 to the Blue Valley Huskies at Tointon Family Stadium.

The loss to Junction City was marred for Manhattan after giving away 11 free bases – eight walks and three hit-by-pitches.

“The overall thing is that pitchers need to do a better job of getting ahead in counts and not walking people,” Manko head coach Dan Rumsey said after both games were completed. “In the first game we had 11 walks and it’s hard to win a ballgame that way.

“In (the second game) we did a better job… but just came up short.”

Manhattan – the visiting team in the Junction City game – took a 7-3 lead after the third inning, but the Bluejays added two runs in the bottom of the fourth and a four-run bottom of the sixth put Junction City in front 9-7. Manko scored in the top of the seventh, but couldn’t regain the lead.

Although the 17ers tallied eight runs, they only notched four hits. But, like Manko, the Bluejays struggled from the pitching mound and racked up eight walks.

Conner Brown started the game for Manhattan and went two innings before he was relieved by Jake Olson, who also pitched two innings. Grant Urban followed for an inning and Garrett Francis ended the game for the 17ers. All together, Manko pitchers allowed eight hits overall, but the free bases cost them.

In the afternoon game, Manhattan opened the contest with a run in the first but Blue Valley answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning taking advantage of Manko miscues.

A triple by Junction City in the bottom of the third scored two of its three runs and the Bluejays looked comfortable with a 5-0 lead.

Manhattan got out of its slump in the top of the fifth with RBIs by Isaac Leon and Tyler Wohler, but it wasn’t enough, as both offenses fizzled the rest of the way and the Bluejays were able to come out of the game with a 5-3 win.

AJ Epperson was the game’s starting pitcher for Manko and gave up five runs on four hits in three innings of service, with five walks and one strikeout. Leon threw the rest of the way for the 17ers and allowed no runs, two hits, one walk and no strikeouts.

Epperson was the top bat for Manhattan with a 2-for-2 outing, while teammates Sterling Shimp was 2-for-3 and Leon was 2-for-4.

“Issac Leon did a good job of putting up three goose eggs for us, and giving us a chance to win in the seventh, but we just came up short,” Rumsey said about the Blue Valley loss. “We hit the ball hard and we put the ball in play a lot, but (the Huskies) wouldn’t fall for us. We just have to keep hitting the ball hard and to keep attacking the plate.”

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