State champs: Hays Legion wins Class AAA championship
Published on -8/4/2012, 8:26 PM
By KLINT SPILLER
MANHATTAN -- After pitcher Austin Unrein forced a groundout to third base, his teammates immediately assaulted the mound and executed a celebratory dog pile.
For the Hays Senior Legion and the Hays baseball community, the jubilation was probably warranted. After all, a state championship was a long time coming.
Hays' state championship drought in baseball lasted 31 years, but the Hays Eagles finally ended it Saturday, defeating Pittsburg 9-5 in the Class AAA championship game of the state tournament at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan.
Bolstered by a six-run third inning and first-time pitching appearance by a member of the Junior Legion team, the Eagles (45-8) managed to withstand Pittsburg's tournament-leading offense.
"It feels great," said Eagles first-year coach Brad Kelly. "I really am speechless. I don't know what to say. These guys have battled all year. They deserve it. They worked their butts off for a lot of years."
It was the first state baseball championship a Hays team has captured since 1981.
In 1981, Thomas More Prep-Marian won the 4-3-2-1A state championship and the Hays Senior Legion team also won the state legion tournament.
The Eagles' bats were on fire against Pittsburg, totaling 14 hits -- the most of the Eagles' tournament run.
Hays produced the bulk of its offense in the third inning when the Eagles got seven consecutive batters on base without an out.
Unrein provided the catalyst for the explosive inning, hitting a triple to right-center field.
Then the Eagles hit three singles and drew three walks, scoring four, and Unrein capped the inning with a two-out, two-RBI single to right field to take a 7-2 lead.
Pittsburg battled back, scoring a run in the fourth and two in the fifth, but never managed to tie it.
Hays starter Josh Heifner (12-1) got roughed up a little but still managed to earn the victory.
He lasted five innings, allowed five runs (four earned), eight hits and six walks and struck out one.
His 12th win tied him for the seventh most wins by a Hays Senior Legion pitcher in Hays' history. The record is 13.
Layne Downing relieved him in the sixth. It was his first appearance for the Senior Legion squad, and he made it count. He stemmed the tide of Pittsburg's rally, allowing just a hit and a walk in three innings.
Kelly said he learned of Downing's ability when he coached the Junior Legion team last year.
"I knew Layne was a guy who was going to come in and throw strikes and not walk anybody," Kelly said. "It was a gut feeling. We decided to go with him. We felt like we could get the job done, and he did a great job throwing three zeros in a row."
As AAA state champions, the Hays Eagles earned a berth in the National Region 4 Tournament from Aug. 9 to 14 in New Orleans, and Kelly said his team plans to make the trip.
"We are going to keep playing until they tell us we can't play anymore," Kelly said. "We are going to try to win every time just like we have all year."