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SPOTLIGHT
Indians finding ways to win

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Indians finding ways to win

Published on -4/22/2012, 7:21 PM

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By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

It should come as no surprise Thursday's doubleheader between the Hays High School baseball team and Great Bend came down to two walk-off hits.

Add to it, each team made a stellar comeback in what turned out to be a pair of wins for the Indians.

Since 2000, the teams have been the cream of the crop in the Western Athletic Conference. Of the last 12 WAC titles, 11 have either been won or shared by the Indians or the Panthers. Great Bend had a string from 2000 to 2009 where they at least shared the title.

Thursday's doubleheader, an 11-10 (8 innings), 9-8 sweep for Hays High, had that championship feel. Everyone got in on the action to get it done.

"This is how your teams grow up," HHS coach Frank Leo said. "You learn how to play.

"You don't become better by playing weak teams, you become better by playing good quality teams, and it happened on both sides (Thursday)," Leo added.

Both squads arguably boast their best teams in five years as Great Bend suffered its first two losses, and Hays High moved to 7-1 with a 2-0 WAC mark, giving itself a leg up in the conference race. The Indians have won two consecutive WAC crowns.

"We always know WAC is on the line whenever we play a good WAC team," Hays High senior pitcher/leadoff hitter Austin Unrein said. "They're always decent ball teams, and we have to step it up."

Hays High had to do that big time in both games Thursday. After giving up a 10-7 lead late, the Indians got a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning from senior Riley Kaus to win the opener. Then, in the nightcap, Hays High rallied from an 8-2 deficit in the sixth to win with a two-RBI walk-off single from Unrein.

It wasn't the wins, necessarily the Indians were impressed with. It was the fact this squad, laden with seniors, was able to find a way to get it done. In both contests, starting pitching struggled, and good relief pitching battled the Indians back.

Senior reliever Chase Young, in his first varsity appearance, gave up three runs in the seventh inning of the opener, but had a strikeout and got a groundout to end a scoring threat in the eighth, and got the win. Then, in the nightcap, seniors Landon Leiker and Tyler Wooldridge combined to shut down a Panther club that put up 10 hits on junior starter Hayden Hutchison. Wooldridge, Leiker and Young have now combined for 122รขÑ3 innings, giving up just three earned runs.

"They gave us the chance. We had to start throwing zeros up. We couldn't keep letting them get one here and one there," Leo said. "Those guys did it."

The Indians also became more patient at the plate -- especially in the nightcap.

"In the last inning, our guys grew up as hitters and didn't chase," Leo said. "There were four or five guys that were in big-time situations where they could have chased, got too excited, but they remained calm -- great to see."

Thursday's first game was the first time since 2008 a Hays High team has needed extra innings (win or lose). In 2008, the Indians defeated Salina South, 15-11 in nine innings.

"We came together as a team more than we have (in the past)," said Kaus, who recorded three hits and three RBIs, including the game winner in the opener Thursday. "We grew together and played our hardest."

Especially erasing a six-run deficit in the nightcap, three runs coming against Great Bend senior ace Mitch Kottas, who had kept Hays High off-balance all game.

"It wasn't over," Kaus said. "Coach was telling us what we needed to fix.

"Our mentality changed about where we needed to stand, and how to approach the pitcher in front of us," he added.

In those final two innings, 7-of-17 Indian batters put up hits, and four collected walks, all coming on full counts.

"What makes a team good -- we haven't been doing it -- but we did today, is if you can get 7, 8, 9 and turn around to your top, and our top is hot, you're going to have a chance," Leo said. "All of them had tremendous at-bats."

Senior Trevor Henningsen (nine RBIs), Hutchison (nine RBIs), and Unrein (five RBIs) are all batting .448 or better. Kaus (.379) and junior Zach Legleiter (.308) have been impressive as well. Thursday's doubleheader saw seven Indians collect multiple-hit games.

"We're pretty balanced everywhere -- maybe lack a little speed on the base paths," Unrein said.

"Other than that, pretty good ball club -- lots of potential."

The Indians are scheduled for two doubleheaders this week, playing at Larned on Tuesday, than hosting WAC foe Garden City on Friday. Garden City enters the week 3-6 overall, and 0-2 in WAC play, following a 10-0, 9-4 sweep by Dodge City (6-3, 2-0) on Thursday.

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