HHS wins, claims tourney title
By NICK McQUEEN
After Friday night's win against Salina Central in the 31st Western Plains Diamond Classic, Hays High School head baseball coach Frank Leo had a chat with his team -- pointing out the next day's starting pitcher, junior Kade Parker.
He wanted him to follow suit with what senior ace right-hander Hayden Hutchison did in an 8-0 bounce-back win after a disappointing loss Thursday. The Friday win clinched HHS' 25th straight winning season.
Parker didn't quite dominate, but did give the Indians just what they needed -- a solid outing -- and it pushed Hays High to a championship in its home tourney. Hays High, behind a complete game from Parker, defeated Goddard 8-1 in Saturday's tourney finale.
"Hutchison set the tone (Friday), and postgame meeting we said 'Park, repeat what he did and get after it,' " Leo said. "That's what he did."
Hays High finished 3-1 in the tourney, after falling Thursday night, 9-4, to Western Athletic Conference rival Great Bend. The Panthers fell to Salina Central and Goddard. Salina Central finished second at 3-1, losing the head-to-head with Hays High. Goddard was 2-2 in third place, Great Bend fourth at 2-2 and Colby finished 0-4.
"You want to play good competition down the stretch," Leo said. "In this case, playing Salina Central and Goddard in important ball games. We don't have a shot at this title unless we get both of them."
Goddard defeated Hays High last season for the Diamond Classic title, and entered this year's field with five wins. The Lions knocked off Great Bend, 6-0, in their first game Friday, but suffered a loss to Salina Central later in the day.
Parker (2-1) worked quickly Saturday. He retired eight of his first 10 batters faced, allowing just one hit through the first four innings.
"He had a good (outing) against Salina South -- not quite of an impact game as this one was," Leo said. "As we get closer to the end of the season, the games have a little more impact as far as team momentum and team confidence.
"He did a great job today of keeping us where we need to be."
Hutchison got the ball rolling for the Indians' offense. With two outs in the first inning, Hutchison sent a full-count pitch over the fence in left center field for the solo home run and a 1-0 Hays High lead. Hays High (12-4) later took a 3-0 lead on a bases-loaded walk to senior Chandler Rule, and an RBI single from Parker.
Later, senior Daniel Bittel, one day after signing to compete at NCAA Division II William Jewell College, blew the game wide open. Just the third of his career, Bittel got a ball up in the wind, and it sailed over the right-field fence for a three-RBI homer -- his first since hitting one in the Diamond Classic two seasons ago.
"It was a good at-bat," Leo said. "The wind probably pushed it a little bit, but he hit it hard in a key situation. He has an important spot in the lineup (No. 2), with Hayden behind him, he's got to get to him."
Bittel's shot gave Hays High and Parker a 6-0 cushion. The junior left-hander's worst inning was the sixth, when Goddard (5-11) scored its run after Parker's lone walk and a RBI-flyout with two runners on.
Parker gave up four hits in the game, three coming in the final three innings. He struck out five with one walk, and Hays High was error-free in cold, windy conditions.
"Very adverse conditions out there," Leo said. "This is not baseball weather. Our guys fought through it, and handled their movements on defense."
Senior Chance Pitcock and Bittel scored two runs each in the game, giving Pitcock 10 for the tournament in the leadoff spot. He was named the tournament's MVP.
Hutchison was 2 for 2 with two walks (one intentional), and Rule drove in three runs, two on a single in the sixth inning to extend Hays High's lead.
The Indians have four games left in the regular season, and are still in the hunt for a WAC title. Hays High hosts Liberal in a 2 p.m. doubleheader Tuesday.
"We just have to keep getting better," Leo said. "Can't play down to any opponent. We can't stay where we're at. This is an important part of the year.
"We have to keep upping the bar," he added. "Senior Day (Tuesday) will be a good day for us."
From Hays High, Hutchison, Parker, Rule and junior Layne Downing were named to the all-tournament team. Joining them was Colby standout pitcher Luke Cox.