No-hitter highlights Rural sweep

By Grant Guggisberg

It was an exciting evening at the ballpark for the Manhattan High baseball team.

Earning a much-needed sweep over Washburn Rural in Topeka, Manhattan got a seven-inning no-hitter from junior Henry de Noble in Game 1 before outlasting the Junior Blues in 12 innings in the nightcap to move to 12-5 on the season.

The win in game one was also the 300th win for head coach Don Hess.

Needless to say, the Indians had plenty to celebrate on the drive home.

“The entire doubleheader was just well-played baseball,” Hess said. “I think we played 19 innings without an error. The pitching was phenomenal tonight, and the defense was just as good. Josh Mullin did a tremendous job behind the plate, blocking balls and calling a great game. And pitching coach Lon Ostrom has worked wonders with these guys also.”

Hess said Tuesday’s pitching performance in Game 1 marked the first seven-inning no-hitter in school history. Other than four walks and a pair of hit batters, de Noble was in control all the way, finishing with nine strikeouts.

“He was really, really impressive,” Hess said. “He was in total command. Had a difficult stretch with some walks, but really was almost unhittable, obviously. It was terrific to see him throw that way in a big ball game for us.”

Manhattan scored all the run-support de Noble would need with a run in the fifth inning. The Indians added a second run in the seventh to give him some wiggle room, though it would prove to be unneeded.

In the second game, Manhattan sent Michael Leeper to the mound, with the junior lasting 4 1/3 innings and allowing seven hits and just a single run to go with three strikeouts. In the fifth inning, Jesse Steinbring came on in relief with a runner on third and one out. The sophomore got Manhattan out of the inning and went the distance for the Indians. He finished the night with no runs, two hits and nine strikeouts to go with just two walks.

“Mike threw pretty well, then Jesse came in and was lights out,” Hess said. “He threw a tremendous ball game for us. I think he threw 75 percent first-pitch strikes, which is pretty incredible.”

In the 12th inning, MHS got the single run it needed with a two-out rally. Dustin Whipple was hit by a pitch, then stole second. Senior TJ Giller reached on an infield single to move Whipple to third and bring up Bret Fehr with a runner in scoring position. Fehr delivered, lining a hard grounder to right field to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.

Steinbring pitched a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the 12th to end the game. He struck out the first two batters he faced before the final batter hit a ball down the line to Chris Klug at third. Klug threw him out at first to end the game.

“It was a tremendous play to end the game,” Hess said.

With no lights on the field at Rural, the game would likely have ended after 12 innings regardless of whether any team scored.

“Rural doesn’t have lights, so we were probably into the last inning of a tie ball game,” Hess said. “I don’t think we’d have been able to continue on past the 12th inning. We started early and played right until it got dark. It was a long day at the ballpark, but very rewarding.”

With just one more doubleheader left on the schedule at Topeka West on Thursday, Manhattan needed both wins to have the chance to finish as the second seed and host next week at regionals. Rural (11-7) and Lawrence (12-7) are the other teams contending for the spot, meaning even a split with Topeka West would seal the deal for the Indians.

“It’s a real critical time,” Hess said. “These games are big for us because we were in about the same spot as them with regional seeding. So for us to get two wins helps our standing, for one, and for two, it’s nice to be playing terrific baseball at this point in the year. There are things we still have to work on, but for us to play defense and pitch like we did tonight gives us hope for the future.”

Manhattan travels to Hummer Sports Park in Topeka for a 4 p.m. start on Thursday.

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