After a season filled with rainouts and indoor practices, Manhattan High baseball coach Don Hess wasn’t sure how his team would respond to playing six games in four days.
With Thursday’s two-game sweep of Topeka West to close out a 6-0 week, as well as the regular season, he can rest easy.
MHS won the first game 5-3 before getting a gem from Jacob Biller in Game 2, winning 1-0 to finish 14-5 on the year and clinch the No. 2 seed for regionals.
The official seeding meeting is Saturday morning, but Manhattan has the two-seed locked up, with third-seeded Lawrence, sixth-seeded Junction City and seventh-seeded Topeka High all traveling to Manhattan next week for a single-elimination tournament with a state berth on the line.
While the road to state won’t be easy, Hess likes the way his team is playing right now.
“When you get through a regional and a state competition, you have to have three arms that can get you through the two games,” Hess said. “You have to be able to count on three people to be productive. We feel like we have that right now, that we have some guys that are stepping up and taking charge and want the ball in their hands. That makes us feel a whole lot better as we had into the playoffs.”
While the Indians weren’t as sharp as they were Tuesday night at Washburn Rural, they had enough left in the tank to get the job done against Topeka West.
Ethan Fabrizius got the start in the first game, going 4 2/3 innings of two-hit ball, but did have four walks and a hit batter. Michael Leeper came on in relief in the fifth inning and pitched the rest of the way without allowing a hit to earn the win.
“All in all, Ethan Fabrizius threw well, we just had a couple defensive breakdowns that caused him some problems and just a little bit of control issues, but Ethan just keeps getting better and better every time out,” Hess said. “We’re looking forward to great things from him.”
Offensively, MHS got single runs in the third and fourth inning before breaking out in the sixth, putting up three runs, with Josh Klug providing the big hit. Klug finished the game with two hits and three RBIs. Chris Klug and TJ Giller also had two-hit games.
While the Indians scored enough to earn the win, Hess would like to see his team improve with runners in scoring position.
“We ended up with 17 hits in the doubleheader, but didn’t hit the ball real well and left a lot of guys on base,” he said. “We need to do a better job of scoring people when we have them in scoring position.”
In Game 2, Biller threw a four-hitter, allowing no runs and striking out seven. He only walked one.
“He’s another one who compared to where he started the year, he’s really in control out there,” Hess said. “We have confidence in him and he keeps getting better every time out.”
Offensively, MHS continued to struggle scoring runs, but got a single run in the fourth that proved to be enough. Tyler Wohler finished the day 2 for 2 with a double and a walk. Biller also had a double. Bret Fehr had two hits and three steals in the second game.
Hess said fatigue after a long week could have contributed to some of the defensive miscues and struggles at the plate.
“We’ve played six games in four days, so you don’t know what effect that had on them,” he said. “It’s been a long week, so when you can win all six of your games, it’s hard to complain too loud. But some of our focus just wasn’t where it had been.”
Hess said he was pleased with the way his pitchers have improved their walk rates late in the season by leaning on the defense.
“TJ Giller is playing an incredible shortstop for us,” Hess said. “He’s making all the plays for us, and we’re getting good effort from everybody on defense, and it’s really been a luxury. Our pitchers are figuring out that if they throw the ball over the plate, and not walk guys, great things can happen.”
MHS will host at regionals next week — the dates and times yet to be announced.