great start for the American Legion Manhattan Manko senior 17ers at the Kansas State Showcase turned ugly Friday afternoon in a 14-4 run-rule loss to the Mac-N-Seitz Royals.
The 17ers took a 3-1 lead after the first inning and led 4-2 in the top of the fourth before finding trouble against the Royals, allowing 12 runs on 12 hits in the next three innings while their bats went cold.
“We came out great offensively, we were doing everything,” Manhattan head coach Steve Disbrow said. “Two-strike hitting, drawing walks, hitting behind guys, stealing a bag, hitting them in. That’s a great way to start. But then that was about as poorly as we can play defensively.
“To start off like that and we walk a few hitters and then all of the sudden balls in the air aren’t being caught, and we’re throwing balls away. All of the sudden they creeped back into the game without having to earn a whole lot. So that was frustrating from that perspective. But we’ll get back after it and see how we can get better.”
Offensively, the 17ers, had just seven hits in the game, three of which came in the three-run first inning, with Ian Hart leading off the game with a single, Jake Olson drawing a walk and AJ Epperson providing a two-RBI single. Luke Stegeman scored Epperson on a sac fly to left.
From there, the bats went cold for Manhattan, which scored a single run in the fourth inning with Stegeman hitting a single and eventually getting to third, where he was caught in a pick-off attempt but scored when the third baseman hit him in the back with the throw to the plate.
Defensively, Manhattan was plagued by five errors in the game, which made the work of pitchers Jeremy Broadwater, Epperson and Eric Prockish that much tougher.
Broadwater got the start and held the lead for three innings before giving way to Epperson in the bottom of the fourth after allowing a single and a walk to start the inning.
Epperson, who hadn’t pitched in more than two years, held his own, but was slowed down by the 17ers defense, which missed a fly ball in left field to score an inherited runner, with a passed ball scoring the other. He allowed an RBI single, a walk and hit a batter before Disbrow called upon Prockish, who got a fly out to right to end the inning, trailing the Royals 5-4.
“AJ did fine, and we know we have to develop some pitching depth,” Disbrow said. “It hurts not having two arms this weekend — Garrett (Francis) and Grant (Munsen) are both significant relief guys for us. But I have a lot of confidence in AJ. He’s been throwing great bullpens and I thought he threw well today.
“He just had a couple of breaks behind him that didn’t go our way. He deserved a little better than the result that he got, but he’ll be fine. He’ll get back out there and I’m sure he’ll be good.”
After going 1-2-3 in the top of the fifth, the 17ers once again struggled to make outs while the Royals picked up where they left off, batting around in the frame and scoring five runs on six hits with the aid of an error and a walk.
After another quick 1-2-3 inning in the top of the sixth, the Royals continued to hit Prockish hard, scoring four runs on four hits, with a passed ball putting two runners in scoring position for Dylan Richardson, who smacked a single to left-center to end the game.
“They had a lot of balls that just fell in front of our guys,” Disbrow said. “Eric’s finding the zone, and it would be nice to get a few swings and misses there, but he was challenging guys and attacking. He just had a few fall in, which was unfortunate. But we didn’t help him out. We left some outs on the field by not making some plays behind him.”
While Francis serves as a top reliever for the 17ers, he also starts at shortstop, which was instead manned by Hart, the regular second baseman. The switch put Darien Stokes, whose natural position is outfield, in at second, with Isaac Leon manning third.
While the infield had its struggles turning double plays and making quality throws, Disbrow said that’s no excuse for a team-wide struggle to catch fly balls.
“All of our mistakes were on balls in the air,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t matter who you are out there, everybody can catch a ball in the air. So that was disappointing to see, but then, we usually catch balls in the air. We just stubbed our toe a little bit.
“Not having your shortstop hurts, but I have a lot of confidence in Ian. He hasn’t played a lot there, but he’s a solid infielder and he’s a really smart player and he’ll be good for us. He did a nice job for us there today.”