TOPEKA — Rock Creek was cruising.
Through the first two games of the Class 3A state baseball tournament in Emporia, the top-seeded Mustangs had outscored their opponents 7-0. Thanks to a 4-0 win over Wellsville in Emporia on Friday, Rock Creek clinched a spot in the championship game. Then the rain came. And it kept falling. It delayed the second semifinal contest between Sabetha and Minneapolis to Saturday. Then Sunday. Finally, weather cleared up to enough to play the second semifinal — with a change of venue from Emporia to Seaman High in north Topeka — Monday.
Sabetha started slow when the semifinal resumed, but eventually went on to beat Minneapolis 9-5. Sabetha carried that momentum into the title tilt, jumping out to a 5-0 lead and rocking Rock Creek 10-4 en route to its second straight state championship.
Afterward, Mustangs head coach Shane Sieben conceded the two-day delay likely took a bit of a toll on his team’s sharpness, especially on the mound.
“I think it did early. It’s tough,” said Sieben, whose team finished the season 22-4 overall. “We had all the momentum the other night after playing so well, and it drags and it drags. (Sabetha) had a chance to play a game and regain some momentum and get something going. In their first game, they kind of dragged early and then got a spark. We were in the same boat: We drug early, and we just couldn’t get the spark when we needed to, just couldn’t get the big two-out hit.”
Still, Sieben said blaming the rain-delay-induced layoff wasn’t acceptable.
“They had the same layover that we did,” Sieben said. “They had to come out and compete. There’s no excuses here. They came out and they played better than us.”
Senior Nate Williams wanted to take the same tack as Sieben. He just felt it wouldn’t be entirely factual.
“I don’t want to lie to you: It wasn’t normal, because it was a day-by-day thing, ‘Are we going to play today? No, we’re not going to play today. Are we going to play?’” Williams said. “It was kind of wearing down on us, but we weren’t the only ones who had to go through that. The other teams had to go through that, too. But it had some effect. We just started off slow. It took us a while to get going.”
Fellow senior Toby Becker said he couldn’t say whether the pair of postponements hurt the Mustangs.
“But it definitely did not help,” he said. “I don’t know. We have a really good indoor facility, so we get a lot of work in there. But I don’t know.”
Both Williams and Becker said it was impossible for them not to play the what-if game: What if they had been able to play the championship game Friday, as originally scheduled? Or even Saturday?
“Definitely even getting that (other) semifinal game done, that would have helped so much knowing who we were facing,” Becker said. “We could have prepared a lot better that way.”
Williams couldn’t heap enough praise on Sabetha, saying his “hat’s off” to its coaches and players. The Bluejays, Williams said, “played incredible” Monday, adding “they played the right way.”
He just wishes the Mustangs had faced them Friday.
“I’m not saying it would have been us winning and them losing — I don’t want to take that away from them,” Williams said, “but if we would have had that momentum from Friday, when we were pitching well, playing well on defense, we were locked in and focused, I think the outcome would definitely have been different.”