Baseball hold off Hutchinson, advances to state semifinals

Jacob Clanton, Sports Editor

In state tournaments, a team must be playing at a high level to advance. However, sometimes a sub-par game can still result in victory.

That was the case for Manhattan High, as the Indians beat Hutchinson 3-1 to advance to the state semifinals.

“I told our guys I really believe that’s as bad as we can play and still win,” head coach Don Hess said. “We were tight and for whatever reason, we just didn’t have the same plate discipline. We just didn’t handle some things with the same focus and confidence that we had in the last three or four weeks.”

One factor that played into the tightness was the lack of experience. Senior Brady Woborny was the only member of the team to have been to a state tournament.

The Salthawks had the same lack of experience, but it didn’t show. Junior Korey Holmburg smacked a double down the left-field line in the first at-bat, later coming around to score. That would be Hutchinson’s only run of the day, as senior pitcher Nick Wohler would allow only one more hit.

“It felt good,” Wohler said, “[I] felt good on the mound.”

In an otherwise bad day, Wohler’s pitching was a beacon of good.

“If we had anything good come from that [game],” Hess said, “it was Nick’s performance. He was really good, which is great because we needed him to be really good.”

The Indians came back to score in the second inning thanks to a leadoff walk from sophomore Zac Cox. Senior Carter Perkins would score him on a grounder to second. The grounder nearly didn’t happen, as Perkins hit a pop fly on the first pitch he saw. Senior catcher Connor Craig dropped it in foul territory to keep Perkins alive.

MHS took advantage of three more Hutchinson errors in the third inning. Senior Chance Henderson reached first thanks to an error and made it to third on a single from senior Jake Steinbring. Wohler’s fly ball in the next at-bat was dropped, allowing Henderson to score. Steinbring scored on an errant throw later in the inning.

“Their mistakes were unforced errors just like ours were,” Hess said, “and they just happened to come at critical times. They were scrappy and … we had to fight for everything we could. It was both teams not playing real well, but playing hard.”

Both defenses clamped down, with neither team getting a runner on base until the sixth inning.

“They weren’t hitting the ball very solid,” Wohler said, “other than the two down the line. I knew I just needed to throw strikes and my defense would end up making plays behind me. I got some strikeouts today too, so we could do it a bunch of different ways.”

Wohler pitched a complete game, allowing one run on two hits, and striking out six.

The game got interesting in the top of the seventh. Manhattan needed only to prevent the Salthawks from scoring twice and the Indians would clinch the win. It wasn’t that simple.

A high throw from Cox allowed Craig to reach first to lead off the inning. Senior Wyatt Akins hit a double next at-bat, giving Hutchinson runners on second and third with nobody out.

“I was nervous,” Wohler said. “No doubt about it. [The key was] just making pitches. I knew we’d get out of it, I knew it.”

It took a bit of luck to make Wohler’s prediction come true. On a grounder to third, Henderson threw home to get Craig out and prevent a run from scoring. Woborny dropped the ball, but in an attempt to jump over Woborny and the tag, Craig missed home plate. Woborny was able to scoop the ball up and tag Craig out, preventing a run from scoring, and recording the second out.

“We were fortunate that we got the out at home because we probably shouldn’t have been throwing to home,” Hess said. “[We] should have been throwing to first base. [Henderson] was trying to be aggressive, trying to eliminate a scoring opportunity, and we were very fortunate because we misplayed the ball and then we’re able to get the tag.”

The next batter hit a grounder to Henderson, who threw to first base this time, getting the final out and securing the victory for Manhattan.

“[I was holding my breath] starting from the first pitch of the seventh inning,” Hess said.

For the Indians, they learned all about the differences of the state tournament.

“When you get to a state tournament, it’s a whole different beast,” Hess said. “The pressure, the excitement, the tension is significant, and you just have to figure out how to monitor that and feed off of that.”

Looking ahead, Manhattan will play Blue Valley Northwest tomorrow at 11 a.m. in Lawrence. With the first game under its wings, MHS knows it will be better prepared tomorrow.

“Everybody’s really tight, really tense,” Wohler said, “but I think we’ll come out tomorrow ready to play the way we know how.”