LAWRENCE — After falling 3-1 to Maize in Friday’s Class 6A state baseball semifinal, the Manhattan High baseball team had about an hour to regroup and prepare for a consolation game against Wichita Northwest at Hoglund Ballpark.
While it wasn’t the trophy they wanted to be playing for, the Indians refocused and got the job done against the Grizzlies, beating them 3-1 to bring home third place while setting a new school record for wins.
“It was real tough,” Manhattan head coach Don Hess said. “There were a lot of teary-eyed young men that wanted to win it all. We told them we had the opportunity to get more wins than anybody in the history of the program and go home with some significant hardware, and they responded.
“They came out and played loose and played hard, and we’re real proud of each one of them.”
As they did all weekend, the Indians won the game behind a strong pitching effort. Starter Ethan Fabrizius pitched 5 1/3 innings of shutout baseball before handing the ball to Jacob Biller, who allowed a single run in the top of the seventh before recording the final out and logging a six-out save. Fabrizius finished his day allowing two hits, while striking out none and walking four.
“I knew all of us were pretty disappointed that we lost that first game,” Fabrizius said. “I figured we wanted to go out on top, so I tried to do everything I could to go out with a win. It’s not the win we wanted, but it’s better than losing the last game.”
Offensively, the Indians never quite got back to their old selves, finishing the weekend with just one extra-base hit and seven runs scored over three games. Unlike Thursday against Junction City, they did hit the ball hard, but found bad luck, hitting into three double plays in each of their two games on Friday.
“We hit some balls hard,” Hess said. “We hit into several double plays, which you can’t turn a double play unless you hit it solid. We hit the ball, we could have done a better job than we did, but I don’t think we struck out a whole bunch, we put the ball in the play and we gave ourselves a shot, and that’s all we can ask for.”
Manhattan got single runs in three separate innings to pace the offense. Biller smacked a triple in the first inning to give the Indians a 1-0 lead, with the Indians adding a second run in the second inning on a groundout by Bret Fehr. The Indians took a 3-0 with a single by Alex Huerta in the fourth.
Hess said the effort of his pitching staff made the third-place finish possible. Manhattan allowed just four runs in three games at the state tournament.
“The pitching — we’ve just counted on the pitching all year, and they have delivered time and time again,” Hess said. “We had another shutout going into the last inning of the third-place game, which would have been our 10th of the year. And that’s an incredible total.
“Our pitchers competed, and as a result, you look at our record of 22-3, and we don’t have to look too much farther than the effort those guys provided on the mound.”
Following the game, an emotional group of Indians boarded the bus to resounding cheers from the contingent of Manhattan fans proud of the group’s effort.
Fabrizius said the accomplishments of this team will be easier to appreciate as time goes on.
“Those things still stick out, and those are awesome games and achievements,” Fabrizius said. “But it still would have been nice - our No. 1 goal was to go get a ring, but it was still a great season.”
Hess said he told the team to hold their heads high.
“I told them we’re Centennial League champs, we’re 17-1 in an extremely tough league,” Hess said. “We’re regional champs, we’re third place in the state tournament with 22 wins, the most in program history. Be disappointed you didn’t win the big, big prize, but be proud of everything you accomplished.”
MAIZE 3, MANHATTAN 1
A day after struggling at the plate in a narrow win over Junction City, the Manhattan High baseball team couldn’t get enough offense going against the Maize Eagles in Friday’s semifinals, losing 3-1 to fall into the consolation game.
Manhattan (21-3) got good pitching from starter Henry de Noble and Jesse Steinbring in relief, but couldn’t get the timely hit, leaving four baserunners stranded and hitting into three double plays.
Maize, on the other hand, got a pair of two-out singles to score runs, which proved to be the difference in the game.
“They’re a good team,” Hess said of Maize. “Defensively, we didn’t react to a couple plays like we needed to. So for us, it’s like I told them, if we make some plays defensively and get a bunt down here or there, it’s a different ballgame. But it was a close game.
“The only thing you can ever do is ask for an opportunity at the end.”
The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first with an infield hit by Fehr and an RBI-single by Jonah Webber. But Manhattan would log just four hits the rest of the way against Maize right-hander Connor Lungwitz, who pitched a complete-game for the win.
De Noble allowed three runs on six hits over five innings, with Steinbring facing the minimum over two scoreless innings to close out the game.
“Henry threw great, Jesse came back in and was the Jesse of old, and we don’t have anything to hang our heads about,” Hess said. “It was two good teams and somebody’s going to go home a little less happy.”