Monarchs rout Larned; Great Bend up next

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

In just his third outing back since suffering a hip flexor tear, Thomas More Prep-Marian High School senior Taylor Pfeifer admits he's not quite 100 percent.

After sitting out nearly three weeks, though, the Monarchs' starting catcher is starting to feel like he's getting back into a rhythm.

And, probably just in time, as TMP has just one home doubleheader left, a Thursday meeting with Class 5A Great Bend (10-4). It's an outing that could determine TMP's regional seeding.

Pfeifer helped fuel a doubleheader rout of MCAA foe Larned on Tuesday at TMP Field, a 13-4, 11-1 (5 innings) sweep. Pfeifer finished his day with four RBIs, three hits, a walk, and two runs scored. He also caught a runner stealing on a missile to second in the first game.

"I really worked hard at the physical therapy," Pfeifer said.

"Then, I worked on the tee a lot when I couldn't do regular practices. All that really helped -- good to be back playing."

In preparation for being back behind the plate, Pfeifer spent most of his physical therapy doing one-legged squats to build the strength back up.

In his first game back, last week's doubleheader against Russell, Pfeifer said it was tiring at times, but one week -- and six Monarch wins -- later, he feels much better. The time frame was supposed to be two to six weeks, and Pfeifer came back in just under three.

"It helps having him back there," Monarch coach Brian Schumacher said. "(Sophomore Cameron Brin) did a nice job when he was back there, but he started to get tired a little.

"Plus, Taylor is hitting the ball really well for us," Schumacher added. "He's hitting about as well as anyone on the team."

Hitting is something the Monarchs haven't had trouble coming by, and have now pushed their win streak to 15 games with the doubleheader sweep. TMP put up 21 hits in Tuesday's wins, and had decent pitching in a pair of team-pitched games, backed by solid defense. The only drawback against a young Larned squad (no seniors, two juniors) was four errors. Two of those led to Larned scoring three runs in the sixth inning of Game 1. The other two only led to the one run in the nightcap.

"We still just have to improve on fundamentals," Schumacher said. "There are probably a lot of coaches that would like to be in our situation with winning 15 in a row. We do have some things to work on, though, and they're continuing to work at it."

Of course, being in a doubleheader against a Larned team which committed 14 errors on the day didn't help matters. The Indians (3-11) had five errors in a four-run first inning for the Monarchs in the nightcap.

"Larned is very young and going to be good in a couple years," Schumacher said. "But, just when a game like that gets going, it's hard to stay focused.

"They start playing a little sloppy, we start playing a little sloppy, and one thing leads to another," he added.

Still, TMP got what it needed. The Monarchs saved some arms for Great Bend, while still getting them some work, plus picked up two more wins to remain as the frontrunners in their regional. Lakin, the host, has two losses with next Wednesday's seeding deadline looming. The top seed earns a first-round bye in a seven-team regional.

TMP junior Shane Zimmerman pitched three innings in the opener Tuesday, then senior left-hander Pierce Schippers, senior Dylan Lang, and senior Nick Hammeke all got work. Brin and freshman Braiden Werth combined in Game 2.

Schippers (2-0) and Hammeke (4-0) are the Monarchs' likely starters against Great Bend, a 4 p.m. start at TMP Field.

"We really look at every game as a big game," Pfeifer said. "Great Bend is the game, though, that could get us that No. 1 seed."

Since losing 3-1 in the season opener to Scott City, TMP (15-1) has averaged a little more than 11 runs per game, allowing just less than four.

"Our season is not going to be based on whether or not we win these next two games," Schumacher said. "But, it will be a good test for us."