After the American Legion Manhattan Manko senior 17ers outlasted the Kansas Crush in Friday’s first pool-play game, everyone watching Sunday’s final in bracket play expected a hotly-contested game.
The championship game of the 21st Annual Manhattan Tournament of Champions lived up to the billing, with the Crush winning 6-4 to take first place and leave the 17ers in second.
“We’d rather have first place, but in the big picture, we played good baseball this weekend, and that’s what’s important,” Manhattan coach Luke Snyder said. “We’ve gotten better every time we’ve stepped on the field, and that’s what we want to accomplish.”
The Crush broke a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth against Manhattan reliever Ethan Fabrizius. Bret Fehr drew a one-out walk and moved to third on Jacob Biller’s single before Tanner Triggs’ RBI single gave the Crush the lead.
Biller would go on to score on a ball that got away from catche Josh Mullin before Fabrizius got Jeff Christen to strike out and end the inning.
But the damage had been done.
Manhattan mustered only a walk by Josh Klug against Crush reliever Ben Ramberg in the top of the seventh to end the game and take the loss.
“Those are two good baseball teams, and a two-run ballgame didn’t surprise anybody,” Snyder said. “They played well, we did some good things, but when you give a team like that extra outs, it hurts. When we did that, they took advantage and that’s what a good team does.”
Manhattan starter Chris Klug went five innings for the 17ers, allowing four runs on six hits. Crush starter Scott Shinn also lasted five innings, giving up four runs on six hits, though he had five strikeouts.
Snyder said he was pleased with his pitchers.
“(Chris Klug) battled, he didn’t want to come out of the game,” Snyder said. “That’s the kind of player he is. And Ethan came in and did a good job, but we gave them an extra out. That hurt us.”
Manhattan got three runs in the top of the first after a walk, an error and a single set the table for Chris Klug’s two-RBI double. Dustan Whipple followed it with an RBI single to set up the 17ers with an early lead.
But the Crush answered in the bottom half, scoring a run on a Biller single after Fehr’s leadoff double to make it 3-1.
The Crush tied the game with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third, and both teams scored a run in the fifth to keep things close.
Mullin had a pair of hits in the championship game to cap a solid weekend. He also had two doubles in the semifinal win against Hays.
“This is his third year playing with the big boys,” Snyder said of his catcher. “He did a great job behind the plate, he calls all the pitches. He did a great job of studying hitters.
“Josh did a great job of calling games for us this weekend. And he hit the ball around the park. He may not have put up huge numbers at the plate, but he hit the ball hard a lot. He was fantastic this weekend.”
With the TOC in the books and a 4-3 record in tow, Snyder said the key for his team’s improvement is ensuring they’re prepared each and every game.
“We just have to make sure we step on the field prepared mentally,” he said. “We have a good team here, it’s just a matter of getting after it, being prepared mentally before you step on the field. We have to stay hungry.”
Manhattan travels to Topeka to play the Topeka Stars on Tuesday before taking the weekend off.
MANHATTAN 5, HAYS 2
In the semifinal round against Hays, Manhattan trailed 2-1 heading into the sixth inning, but got four runs when Myers, Leeper and Chris Klug all hit RBI singles and Josh Klug reached on an error by the shortstop to plate the fourth run and give Manhattan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
Manhattan starter Jesse Steinbring finished his day with four innings pitched, allowing two runs on four hits. Chris Klug relieved him in the fifth and earned the win with three scoreless innings against Hays, allowing no hits and striking out three. His only baserunner came on an error to lead off the seventh.
“We pitched well and with Jesse and Chris, we knew we still had two good arms,” Snyder said. “It was just a matter of time — we knocked their starter out of the game and at the back end of tournaments, pitching is thin. We were at an advantage in that we had two guys ready to go, and that was the difference in the first game.”
The 17ers got their first run of the game on an RBI double by Mullin in the fifth inning preceded by consecutive walks to Josh Klug and Leeper. Mullin’s double landed in the gap in right-center, but Klug was held at third as Mullin came charging into second, leaving Leeper stranded between second and third as the ball came sailing back to the infield. As the rundown ensued, Klug took off for home plate and the ball got away from Hays’ catcher Jake Sedbrook to score the run and leave everybody safe.
“I could have coached better in that first game,” Snyder said. “But the bats bailed me out. We put pressure on them in almost every inning. It took us a little while before we got any runs.”
Gorman ties record
Second baseman Caleb Gorman finished the game a perfect 4 for 4 — if you’re counting plate appearances ending in a hit by pitch. Gorman was hit in all four of his plate appearances against Hays, tying the 17ers record held by Snyder from 2001.
“I don’t know if there is an official record,” Snyder said. “But if there is, Caleb went out and got it.”