EMPORIA — For about an hour, the Topeka Senators gained some new fans Friday night in the Class AAA State Legion Baseball Tournament at Soden's Grove.
After earning a thrilling 3-2 walkoff victory over Emporia in the previous game, the Hays Eagles’ hopes at advancing to the semifinals rested on the bats of the Senators in the last matchup of pool play against Nickerson.
Sitting at 2-1 in their pool, the Eagles needed either a Senators' win or Nickerson to give up five runs for Hays to move on to Saturday’s semis.
Neither scenario came through for the Eagles, who were eliminated from the tourney after Nickerson beat Topeka 10-1 in five innings, leaving Hays on the wrong end of a three-way tiebreaker for fewest runs allowed.
Still, the Eagles managed to get in one more thrilling victory before the season came to an end.
Trailing 2-1 to Emporia heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles (34-6-1) rallied for two runs, scoring the game winner off an error at second base to keep their hopes at advancing alive.
“They’re a tough group. We’ve got a lot of tough kids on the team,” Eagles coach Dustin Schumacher said. “There’s no quit in those guys. They’ve done that all year. We don’t win 34 games this season by giving in and letting stuff bother us.”
Emporia, also 2-1, advanced on the tie breaker, allowing eight runs while Hays gave up 10 in pool play. Nickerson, which beat Hays 4-3 in the tournament opener, then secured their spot by finishing pool play with only seven runs allowed.
“We didn’t take care of business in game one, so we would have nobody to blame but ourselves,” Schumacher said before watching the Nickerson-Topeka game. “That’s why it’s no fun to sit here and wait. And it’s all out of your control, but that’s the game and it’s just something to learn from.”
After spotting Emporia a run in the first inning, Hays evened it up at 1 in the fourth after Trey Riggs came home on a throwing error. But Emporia regained the lead in the sixth after taking advantage of two Hays’ errors.
In the bottom of the seventh, Brett Herrman led off with a walk for the Eagles and was bunted over to second by Dawson Harman. Brady Kreutzer then singled to move Herrman to third before Jamison Martin singled down the left field line to tie it.
After an intentional walk to Palmer Hutchison, Trey Riggs grounded into a force out at the plate before Cody Petersen hit a grounder to the right side that the second baseman misplayed, scoring Martin for the winning run.
Schumacher said he was encouraged by the at-bats the Eagles were putting together all game.
“I think after the third inning, I counted that we had four loud outs already,” Schumacher said. “It kind of wears on you psychologically when you hit the ball kind of hard a bunch of times and get nothing out of it. And then they made some really good plays. I’m not going to take anything away from them, and their pitcher did a good job too.”
Cole Murphy turned in another strong outing on the mound for Hays, tossing a complete game and allowing just four hits and two unearned runs.
“If we got a must-win game, Cole’s our guy,” Schumacher said. “He’s such a warrior out there and does that every time. I can’t say enough about the job he did today.”