For the second straight season the Seward County Saints Baseball team could almost taste the thin air of Grand Junction, Colorado, home of the NJCAA World Series, but on Tuesday their dream came up just short again as they fell 8-6 in 12 innings to Hutchinson and were eliminated in second place of the Region VI Tournament.
The Saints first matchup in Wichita saw them head to head with a familiar foe, the Cowley Tigers. After all, the two had played three times last season in the Region VI Tournament with the Saints coming out on top of the first game but the Tigers storming back to take both championship games from the Saints and ending their season. Seward started off well in this one as Kelby Tomlinson walked to lead off the game and would quickly steal second, advance to third on a ground ball and score on a sacrifice fly from Luke Campbell to put the Saints up 1-0 in the 1st. The score was still 1-0 in favor of Seward in the 3rd but the Tigers wouldn’t have it that way for long as they cashed in 3 runs with two outs and went ahead 3-1. The Saints couldn’t get much going through the middle innings, coaxing just two walks in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, out of Cowley starter Zach Cargill who found his rhythm after a shaky 1st. Cameron Maldonado was equally as tough however, holding Cowley in check through the 5th and the score remained 3-1 Tigers after 5. That’s when the guys from Arkansas City put their foot on the gas pedal and got something going in the 6th as five hits and a walk would lead to 3 runs and after 6 the Tigers would hold a 6-1 advantage. Seward would get absolutely nothing going late in the game as Cargill retired the final nine hitters he would face in the 7th, 8th, and 9th while Cowley tacked on an insurance run in the 8th and 3 in the 9th to blow the game open and come away with the 10-1 win. The Tigers outhit the Saints 18-2 in the ballgame while Seward made 4 errors while Cowley played a clean game defensively. The lone Seward hits came off the bats of Todd Glime and Ty Jacobs while Campbell drove in the only run of the game and Tomlinson scored the Saints only tally.
The loss sent the Saints to the elimination bracket where their next game would see them go toe to toe with the team that they shared the Jayhawk West Conference title with this season in the Butler Grizzlies. Both teams relied mostly on their offense to come away with their 24 conference wins so Monday’s elimination matchup was expected to be an offensive showcase but freshman Kyle Kinman and Logan Hall had other ideas as the starting pitchers for the game. Hall battled out of a bases loaded jam in the 1st and allowed just one hit through the next three innings and had the Grizzlies in check through 4. Kinman worked around singles from Josh Dawson and Ty Jacobs in the 2nd and a one out double by Kelby Tomlinson and matched zero’s with Hall through 3. The first scoring of the game would come in the 4th inning as Dawson doubled with one out and later came into score on a costly error by Butler shortstop Sheldon Howell to make it 1-0 Saints after 4. Hall would continue to get the Grizzly hitters to pound the ball into the Lawrence Dumont carpet for the next three innings as he picked up six outs on the ground while keeping his shutout intact through 7. The Jayhawk West Freshman of the Year Kinman wasn’t going to let that one unearned run get to him however as he held the Saints in check in the 5th, 6th, and 7th by allowing just one hit and with two innings to go the score remained 1-0 in favor of the guys in green. Butler would tie the game in the 8th after three consecutive singles and a sacrifice fly but Hall would work his way out a jam yet again, leaving the bases loaded with Grizzlies and allowing just 1 run to keep the game tied at 1 after 8. After allowing a leadoff hit in the 9th, Hall was lifted in way of closer Quay Grant who battled his way out of his own first and second, nobody out mess in the inning to put up a zero and keep the game tied at 1. The Saints would again go in order in the 9th and to extra innings the two teams would go with their seasons on the line. The Grizzlies would again find themselves in a bases loaded situation in the 10th inning off of Grant but they were unable to push anything across again as a one hopper back to the Seward stopper would end the threat and the inning as the teams went to the bottom of the 10th. Kinman would stay in and throw through the 10th and did a masterful job at that, retiring the bottom three in the Seward order on just nine pitches to send the game into the 11th inning. Butler would not cash in after a pair of singles in the inning and Seward would be unable to get anything going after a two out walk to Luke Campbell and 11 innings wasn’t enough as the teams went to the 12th tied at 1-1. For the third straight inning, Butler would have a heavy flow of traffic on the bases but yet again Grant would wriggle his way out of the mess unscaved and give the Saints yet another chance in the bottom of inning number 12. A misplayed ball by Butler first baseman JC Ochoa would get the inning started for Seward and after a sacrifice bunt by Jacobs to move Dawson to second, the Saints had two shots to drive in the run from second and advance in the tournament. After a good battle with Butler closer Brett Macari, Jordan Dallalio popped to center field for the second out of the inning to bring Tyler Hill to the plate in just his 11th start of the season in right field. After working the count to 2-1, Hill came up with undoubtedly the biggest hit of his Seward County career with a single to right field to score Dawson and give the Saints the 2-1 walk off win. The Saints won despite being outhit 15-6 in the game thanks in large part to the Grizzly defense which committed 4 errors and allowed 2 unearned Seward runs. Dawson was the only Saint with more than one hit in the game as he finished 2 for 5 and scored both Seward runs while Hall picked up a tough luck no decision after going 8 innings and allowing just 1 run in the contest. Grant picked up the win in relief for Seward in a career high 4 innings pitched, allowing 5 hits and no runs while walking 2 and striking out 1. Kinman was the story for Butler, pitching 11 innings and throwing 140 pitches, allowing just 5 hits and 1 unearned run while retiring 16 straight Saints from the 6th to the 11th innings and picking up the no decision.
The Seward win coupled with a Cowley loss to Hutchinson meant that the Saints and Tigers would renew their rivalry again with their seasons on the line Monday night in an elimination matchup with the winner moving onto the championship game and the loser heading home empty handed. The game didn’t start out as the Saints drew it up as Cowley jumped ahead 2-0 in the 2nd inning after a misplayed ground ball coupled with two, two out hits, played a pair of runs to put Seward behind. The Saints would chip away in the 3rd as Josh Dawson singled up the middle to plate Kelby Tomlinson who singled earlier in the inning to make it 2-1 Tigers. Three walks would turn into 2 runs for Cowley in the 5th inning to put them up 4-1 but a resilient Seward County team would match the Cowley two spot with a pair of their own on RBI singles from Luke Campbell and Ty Jacobs to keep the deficit at 1, 4-3. On in relief of starter Jose Gonzalez, Jared Wagner was lights out out of the Seward bullpen in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings, retiring the Tigers in order in each inning to keep the Saints within striking distance as the teams went to the bottom of the 8th frame. Seward took advantage of Wagner’s brilliance, picking up clutch two out RBI singles from Tomlinson and Quay Grant to tie the game at 4 and then push them ahead at 5-4 with just one inning to go. A leadoff walk would keep the fans on the edge of their seats and after a sacrifice bunt, the Tigers had a runner in scoring position with one out and two shots to tie the game. Catcher Rey Otero would ground out to second moving the runner to third but first team All-Region pick Ronnie Melendez would fly out to right to end the game and move Seward onto the championship game of the tournament. Wagner came up as big as he possibly could in his final outing as a Saint, going 4 2/3 innings out of the bullpen, allowing just a single hit and a single walk while not allowing a run and picking up his second win of the season. After being outhit 18-2 in their first matchup with Cowley, the Saints returned the favor in this one, outhitting the Tigers 15-3 including multi-hit games from Tomlinson, Grant, Dawson, Campbell, Jacobs, and Tyler Hill to come away with the 5-4 win. The top of the Seward order was a combined 10 for 18 while all four had an RBI and three scored a run.
The Saints win meant that for the second straight season they would play for the Region VI Championship and a trip to Grand Junction and the NJCAA World Series on the line. Paul Pulley would toe the rubber for the Saints in just his second start of his Seward County career. The freshman did his job early, putting up back to back zero’s in the 1st and 2nd innings, allowing just one hit to allow the Saints to take an early 1-0 lead on an RBI single from Tyler Hill in the 2nd. Pulley would again allow just one hit in the next two innings he would pitch and going to the bottom of the 4th inning, Seward led 1-0. Ty Jacobs would lead off the Seward 4th with a single and would score with two outs after Daniel Bruce launched a triple off the center field wall to make it 2-0 in favor of the guys in green. Hutch would get their first run of the ballgame in the 5th after a two out error extended the frame but midway through the Saints would still lead 2-1. Neither team would get much going through the 6th and 7th as one runner was left for each team in the 6th and 7th and with two innings to go, the Saints remained up one at 2-1. A defensive miscue and a single to start the 8th would end Pulley’s day as Quay Grant came into the game with two on and nobody out in the frame. Hutch would get an RBI single from Shaun Hoover to tie the game and then a bases loaded walk and a sacrifice fly to score runs and put the Dragons up 4-2 with an inning and a half to go. Seward would go 1-2-3 without a whisper in the 8th on just 9 pitches and to the final inning the teams would go with Hutch in the lead 4-2. Hutchinson would again put the pressure on Seward in the 9th as a leadoff single from Ryan Mayfield and a one out home run from Luka Acosta added a pair of insurance runs and the Saints 2010 season looked to be in the balance. Down 6-2 going to the 9th inning, the Saint didn’t exactly start the inning how they would have liked to as five pitches lead to two outs and nobody on as they were down to their last out. Kelby Tomlinson worked a two out walk and Quay Grant would double to drive him in to cut the lead to 6-3. After an error by Acosta to move Grant to third and put Josh Dawson at first, Luke Campbell doubled home Grant to slice away at the Hutch lead and make it 6-4. With two on in scoring position and two outs, the Saints sent their hottest hitter in the past two weeks, sophomore catcher Todd Glime to the plate. Glime fell behind early in the count and quickly had two strikes in the at bat. But with the tournament bracket already filled out with Hutchinson’s name on it and everybody but the guys in the third base dugout thinking the game was over, Glime doubled to left center field, plating both Dawson and Campbell to tie the game at 6 apiece. For the second time in as many days, the Saints were going to extra innings. Each team stranded a runner in the 10th while Hutch threatened with a runner at third and one out in the 11th but were unable to score and Seward went 1-2-3 as the game swiftly moved to the 12th. Catcher Dan Klein would single to leadoff the 12th for the Dragons and after a sacrifice and a bean ball, the Dragons had two on and one out looking for the go ahead run in extras. An Andrew Dixon single would give the Blue Dragons the go ahead run and a fielder’s choice ground ball would give them another and after 11 ½ the Saints again found themselves behind the eight ball, down 8-6. Seemingly out of gas and emotionally drained the Saints went down in order in the 12th and watched Hutchinson celebrate on the field as they dropped the 8-6 decision to end their 2010 season. The first six hitters in the Seward order all scored a run in the defeat while Hill and Grant led the way offensively with a combined 5 hits. Pulley threw admirably for Seward on the mound, going 7+ innings, allowing 6 hits and just 1 earned run while striking out 5 in the no-decision.
The loss ends the Seward season in second place in the region for the second straight season while the Saints will hang a banner in the summer after winning the Jayhawk West Championship. Seward finishes the year 33-30 overall and puts Head Coach Galen McSpadden within 14 wins of 1,000 at 986 at year’s end. A few of this year’s 2010 Saints will go down in the record books as Kelby Tomlinson finishes the season with 90 runs scored which breaks Cory Patton’s school record of 85 in 2002. Tomlinson’s 28 stolen bases this season will also put him 4th all-time in single season stolen bases. Luke Campbell’s 65 RBI’s this season push him into the company of Patton, Chaz Eiguren, and Tim Forkner on the all-time RBI leader board where he will sit 4th as he leaves with 122 career runs batted in. The Saints will have a number of contributors to replace in 2011 as all 8 fielders in their most common starting lineup of the season have seen their last Seward County action while statistically speaking, 3 of their top 4 pitchers in 2010 will not set foot on the Brent Gould dirt again.