Three-hitter helps baseball to split

Jacob Clanton, Print Editor-in-Chief

By itself, a rivalry game is a high pressure environment. Throw in playoff implications, and the pressure can become too much to handle.

“The first game,” head coach Don Hess said, “we played well, we played hard, but we walked the leadoff guy and we hit him twice and then we didn’t pick up a bunt and field it correctly. In competitive situations, you got to handle the pressure, and we just didn’t.”

After dropping game one 5-2, Manhattan High (13-7, 11-7 Centennial League) responded, beating rival Junction City (13-7, 11-7) 4-2 in a three-hitter on the road last Tuesday.

Senior pitcher Talon Claussen struggled early in game one, allowing a run in the first inning before settling down.

“[It was] just not focusing too much on pitches that weren’t working or where the calls were,” Claussen said. “Throwing the ball to where the hitters can hit it and my team can back me up just helped me get back into a groove.”

The Indians took the lead in the second, scoring on two singles. It would be the only offense Manhattan managed, striking out 14 times throughout the course of game one.

“It’s one thing if you’re not going to get a hit,” Hess said. “It’s another thing if you’re going to strike out. We have to have competitive at-bats and at least put the balls in play, and we had some black holes tonight where people were just disappearing.”

The poor hitting bled over to Claussen’s pitching, as he began to struggle in the fifth inning.

“[My] arm got tired,” Claussen said, “[and I] started getting out of my zone a little bit and I just couldn’t find myself back in the zone I guess.”

Combine that with an errant throw to first on a bunt, and the end result is three Junction City runs. The Blue Jays added one more in the sixth enroute to a 5-2 victory.

Although MHS’ defense failed it on the bunt, Hess was pleased overall with his team’s performance on defense.

“We have our share of miscues,” Hess said, “but you know, it seems like more often than not, if we have a play presented to us, that we make it. Our outfield has been spectacular all year, our catching has been really good, and we turned some really nice double plays tonight, they got us out of some jams. The big thing is that our pitchers just got to give us a chance. If they give us a chance, we’ll do enough, I believe.”

Senior pitcher Ethan Kaus did just that in the second game. Kaus held Junction to just three hits in the entire game, allowing a runner past first base in only one inning.

“Just getting up early in the count and being able to get your secondary pitch up in the zone really helps,” Kaus said. “And also, they were hitting it to spots where my defense was.”

Manhattan had better run support in game two, scoring a run in the first, third, fifth and sixth innings.

“Even if it’s not a lot of runs,” Kaus said, “just any amount, keeping pressure on their team, really helps me out because they’re really pushing for runs. As long as I’m filling it up, we’re on top, we’re in a good position.”

Kaus struggled in the sixth inning, allowing two runs to score on two hits and a walk. However, he was determined to finish the game.

“I just wanted to make sure I filled it up,” Kaus said. “Finishing out’s important, we always got to get that second wind, and especially since we lost the first one, and these wins are important for seeding and regionals and state, and so want to make sure you got that [win]. If I’m on the mound, then [I’m going to] do everything I can do get it.”

Kaus closed out the game with a two-strikeout inning, finishing the complete game three-hitter with a 4-2 victory.

“It looked like he really, really wanted the ball,” Hess said. “I was joking with him, it seemed like he’d get two outs and then he’d walk somebody or he’d give up a hit, I said, ‘Are you doing that to me on purpose?’ I was real proud, I asked him before the last inning if he wanted the ball, he thought about it for a second, and he said, ‘Yeah.’”

With the win, Manhattan finished the season in a three-way tie for third place in the regional standings. Thanks to a lucky coin flip, MHS received the third seed, hosting a regional. The Indians begin their quest for a state championship Thursday against Wichita Southeast at Tointon Family Stadium at 3:30 p.m. With the win-or-go-home nature of playoffs, Manhattan knows it has to have the right mindset.

“Everything is serious,” Claussen said. “Still got to have fun, but everything’s got to be serious. We can’t take anything for granted, can’t take any plays off.”