If you made a checklist of everything Newton American Legion Post 2 Junior Knights manager Mark George didn’t want to see from his team before Thursday’s Zone 4 championship game against the Hutchinson Hawks at Kenny Williams Field, his squad did it in the first two innings.
Errors — check.
Walks — check.
Hit batters — check.
The Junior Knights dug a six-run deficit in the first two innings on five errors, three hit batters and three walks before rallying to win 9-8.
Tied 8-8 going into the bottom of the seventh, Joel Franz went two bases on an error. Cade Valdez flared a single into center field to end the game.
Franz finished the game three for five hitting with two doubles. Valdez finished two for five with two RBIs.
“Their pitchers threw a lot of fast balls down the middle,” Franz said. “We didn’t see a lot of off-speed pitches tonight. We’ve been hitting a lot in the cage each day. We had our ups and downs in the game. We realized we had a chance in the game. We just kept going. (At state), we’re going to have to play a lot better baseball.”
“I just knew I needed to step up for my team,” Valdez said of the winning RBI. “I wasn’t really nervous. It felt good. It was hard. We didn’t play our best baseball early. We just didn’t give up. Good things happen when you keep playing and don’t give up. We have to continue to play good baseball.”
“It took a lot of will and guts,” George said. “We showed last night against Salina that we had a lot of will. Tonight, they showed a lot of guts. That was aided from some big plays.”
Jake Schmidt finished two for three hitting with a double and two RBIs. Owen Mick also drove in two runs.
Schmidt lasted just seven batters without recording an out. Drew Barron went all the way into the seventh inning, allowing one earned run on seven hits with four walks.
Barron gave up a run on two singles and a walk to start the seventh inning, when he hit the 105-pitch count limit. Carson Considine came in, walking the first batter, but getting a strikeout and a double play to end the inning and claim the win.
Newton had three double plays in the game, including one off a long throw by right fielder Ryan Ruggerio after a diving catch to prevent a run scoring.
“Our outfield was phenomenal tonight,” George said. “They struggled a little bit last night, but saved us tonight. Ryan Ruggerio’s catch and throw to second for a double play was the play of the game. The second one was the double play between Karson Keeler and Cade Valdez. Without those plays, we’re not sitting here right now talking about a zone championship.”
Hutchinson was led at the plate by Carter Booe, who went three for three with two RBIs. Malaki Miller went two for four with an RBI.
Bobby Garland pitched two stints on the mound, finishing the game with seven strikeouts. Kinser Newquist struck out one.
Newton advances to the Class A state tournament beginning July 24 at Lake Shawnee Park in Topeka.
"We have some guys going on vacation,” George said. “We’ve got some guys going to Senior zone to help those guys, which they’re deserving of. (Those players will be finished in time for state). We need to throw strikes. We need to get the outs when we have the opportunity. We need to keep hitting the way we’re hitting.”
Hutchinson 5, Junction City 4
Seventh-seeded Hutchinson rallied from a three-run deficit to stop second-seeded Junction City 5-4 in the Zone 4 semifinals.
Hutchinson avenged a 5-2 loss to the Blues in the first round of the tournament.
Hutchinson trailed 4-1 after three innings. In the top of the sixth inning, Hutchinson’s Bennett Turner singled, went two bases on an error and scored on a Nolyn Cunningham single.
With one out in the top of the seventh, Kahler Dixon walked, followed by singles for Kinser Newquist and Garland. One run scored on a wild pitch. Jared Stoffel hit a sacrifice fly to score a run. Jordan Stoffel doubled to score the go-ahead run.
Junction City got its leadoff batter on base in the bottom of the seventh, but a fly out that led to a double play and a ground out ended the game.
Turner finished three for four hitting with an RBI to lead Hutchinson. Trevor Laughlin drove in two runs for Junction City, while Bodey Tillman went two for three.
Laughlin pitched 6.1 innings for Junction City, leaving the game when he hit the maximum 105-pitch count. Laughlin struck out nine. Russell Wilkey finished the game and took the loss.
Carter Booe threw four scoreless innings of relief, striking out four, for the win. Turner struck out three in three innings.