Downing tosses no-hitter in HHS sweep
By NICK McQUEEN
Perhaps for the first time this season, a player on the Hays High School baseball team was thankful for the weather conditions.
After Indian junior Layne Downing threw his final pitch Tuesday in a doubleheader against Liberal at Indian Field, he was thinking one thing: "Thank God for the wind," he said.
A stiff in-blowing breeze helped keep a solid connection by Liberal from sailing into the outfield, and freshman second baseman Cole Schumacher was able to field the hard-hit ground ball, and flip it over to senior Hayden Hutchison at second base for the final out.
The play put the finishing touches on a no-hitter for Downing in a 9-0 Hays High victory. It was the first complete-game no-hitter for the Indians since Downing's brother, Logan, did it against Dodge City in 2008.
"About after the first four innings, I realized I had it going," Downing said. "I'd seen just about everybody, so I knew what they were doing.
"Those last two innings got the heart going a little bit."
The win capped a sweep for HHS (14-2 overall, 6-2 WAC), which won 8-2 in the opener. It clinched a share of the Western Athletic Conference title, the Indians' fifth in the last six seasons.
But, Tuesday turned out to be more about Downing's no-hitter. The right-hander, who made a key relief appearance in last summer's American Legion state championship game, struck out nine Tuesday with just two walks. He walked one in the first inning, and then retired 17 straight.
"We've seen that in Layne in bullpens," HHS head coach Frank Leo said. "We've seen it for an inning or two. Today, he was outstanding, and that's what we expected out of him coming into this year.
"He probably has the best velocity on our team," Leo added.
Only three batters he faced took Downing to a full count, and he was ahead of hitters all day. He caught two looking in the third inning, and struck out two in the fifth and seventh.
"Just stuck to the mechanics coach (Keith Harper) was telling me," Downing said.
The win pushed Downing to 2-1, and showed the coaching staff they have a third option as they gear up for a hopeful postseason run.
"He has smooth mechanics and he stayed with his mechanics," Leo said. "Coach Harper's pretty proud of what he did. Great time of year for him to show us that."
The HHS offense struggled slightly against Liberal pitching to start both games. In the opener, Schumacher (3-0) fell into a 2-0 hole by giving up four first-inning hits, but Hays High took its first lead 3-2 in the fifth on an RBI single by senior Josh Ficken. After the first inning, Schumacher settled in to allow just six hits for the game and struck out five.
"We squared some balls up in Game 1," Leo said. "That wind was awful today. Their guys threw strikes and on this carpet, teams will play good defense.
"(Liberal) played good defense today, and everything we got, we had to earn," he added.
After the lead, Hays High blew the game open in the sixth with five runs on four hits, one a two-RBI double for Downing. Senior Hayden Hutchison also had a double, and scored two runs and drove in another. It was Hutchison's 38th career double, which is a new state record, according to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Senior Chance Pitcock was 2 for 3 in the leadoff spot and scored once. Senior Chandler Rule also had two hits, including a double, and drove in a run in the sixth.
"Once we start getting hot, it's hard for us to get cold again," Downing said.
Downing's RBI double in fourth inning of Game 2 ended up being enough had the Indians not scored any more. Hays High, though, plated eight runs through the fourth and fifth to give Downing the cushion.
Pitcock finished 3 for 4 in the nightcap with a run scored and a double, while Hutchison, Rule and Downing each drove in a run. Freshman Marcus Altman drove in two runs, one on a fly-out and one on a bases-loaded walk in the fifth inning.
"I wish we had about another 10 games," Leo said. "There are still some spots we're trying to figure out -- hard to figure out who's hot and who's not.
"The bottom of the lineup has got to give us some kind of production if we're going to do anything in postseason," Leo added.
Hays High has one more doubleheader, 4 p.m. Friday at Junction City, before seeing where and when it will play in the Class 5A regional. The Indians clinched a share of the WAC title after Great Bend split its doubleheader Tuesday with Garden City.
Nine Indians were recognized prior to the start of the doubleheader. ... Hutchison, Rule, Daniel Bittel, Zack Legleiter, Spencer Greathouse, Pitcock, Ficken, Hunter Gonzales and Jake Sedbrook were all honored before the start.
"We're going to miss them, not only on the field, but in the offseason, they work really hard," Leo said. "Hopefully, that's going to rub off on a few of the younger guys. You don't make progress unless you get out and work.
"They're good guys, and we're going to miss them," he added.