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Eagles win twice, move into zone title round

By LARRY MORITZ

Special to The HDN

SALINA -- The ultimate goal might be winning three consecutive games in the next two days and claiming a zone tournament title.

But the only thing the Salina Pestinger Falcons are focusing on right now is one game this afternoon. That one game will decide if their season ends today or is extended at least one more week.

The Falcons will play in the first elimination game of the American Legion Class AAA Zone 6 Tournament when they face Junction City at 3 p.m. today at Dean Evans Stadium.

Because of an unusual three-team zone format -- which includes state tourney host Hays -- the winner of today's Salina-Junction City contest will finish no worse than runner-up in the zone. That would be good enough to advance to next week's Class AAA state tournament.

"We know what's on the line," Salina coach Jason Gordon said. "Win and we go on to state. Lose and the season is over.

"It's a must-win and I expect us to come out focused with some energy and play the game the right way."

The Falcons put themselves in this position with an 8-4 loss to Hays on Tuesday night at Evans Stadium. Salina, the top seed in the zone tournament, would have to win three games to deny the Eagles the zone tourney title.

The Salina-Junction City winner will play Hays in the first tournament championship game at 6 p.m. today. If Hays wins, it is the zone champ.

If Salina or Junction City wins today's late game, a second title game under the double-elimination format would be necessary Thursday morning.

Although Hays doesn't have as much on the line as its opponents, the Eagles opened the tournament with a 5-2 victory against Junction City in Tuesday's early contest, before handing Salina its first postseason loss.

"It's been an up-and-down year for us," Hays coach Brad Kelly said. "We play good one day and not so much the next.

"But we're approaching this no different than any other game. We want to win every time we step out there. We preach going into every game like it's do-or-die, whether its a postseason game or a regular season doubleheader."

"The fact that we already know we are going to be at state helps us to relax," Hays infielder Hayden Hutchison said. "But we're not going to change anything. We'll play the same ball we've been playing all year.

"We hope this will give us some momentum going to the state tournament."

Hays used only two pitchers in its two nine-inning games, with Kade Parker going the distance against Junction City before Layne Downing did the same against Salina.

The Falcons took an early lead on Hays when Dalton Dooley's sacrifice fly scored Trent Earley in the bottom of the first. Hays never trailed after scoring three runs on three hits in the third, though Salina did tie it up temporarily in the bottom of that innng on Dooley's run-scoring ground out and Keenan Breen's RBI single.

Hutchison doubled to drive in a run, then scored himself on Chandler Rule's single to make it 5-3 in the fourth.

After collecting eight hits total in the win over Junction City, the Eagles had 11 in the first five innings against Salina.

"We didn't swing well at all against Junction City," Hutchison said. "Maybe we were saving hits for the second game. We also know Salina is a good team and maybe we gear up better against them."

Hays had two on and two out in the fifth when Salina intentionally walked Hutchison with first base open. Rule followed with a two-run single, with a third run scoring on an overthrow to push the lead to 8-3.

"They jumped out to a lead and we couldn't establish anything offensively to get a rally going," Gordon said. "Tip your hat to Downing because he kept us off balance.

"We would get guys on the bases and they had guys step up and make plays or make a pitch to get out of it."

Salina reliever Daniel O'Brien entered the game with two outs in the fifth and pitched 4 1/3 innings of no-hit ball. The only Hays baserunner the final four innings reached on an error.

The Falcons (24-13) had three consecutive hits to open the ninth against Downing.

A single from Robert James, a double from Earley and Matt Rowe's RBI single brougth home the final run.

Earley was out at home attempting to score on an overthrow, and Downing closed it out with a flyball to right and his only strikeout of the game.

Hays 5, Junction City 2

Parker pitched a complete game seven-hitter and did not allow an earned run in the Eagles victory over Junction City.

Leadoff hitter Clayton Basgall went 4 for 5, drove in the first run for Hays and scored two more himself.

Basgall's RBI single in the third gave Hays the 1-0 lead, but Junction scored a pair of runs in the top of the fourth after a two-out error.

Hutchison and Rule had back-to-back bases-loaded walks in the fifth to put Hays in front for good.

The Eagles added two unearned runs of their own in the seventh, including one on John Griffith's two-out double.