Top stories 2013 -- Eagles repeat as state champs
By NICK McQUEEN
In the summer of 2012, the Hays Senior American Legion baseball team put together one of the best seasons the program had seen.
That team won nine straight at the end of the season, including the club's first Class AAA state championship since 1981, and carried a 46-8 record into the Mid-South Regional Tournament in New Orleans.
Despite returning just four players who saw considerable time, the expectations didn't change for Hays in 2013 -- and the Eagles rose to the occasion.
"Like the high school season (at Hays High School), we're playing with a new team," Eagles shortstop Hayden Hutchison said prior to the start of the summer. "I'm not really trying to look down the road.
"We just need to go day-by-day, getting one guy on base at a time, one play at a time, and one game at a time. See where it takes us."
Where it took them was to the top of the pack again. Hays won its second straight AAA state title and earned another regional bid, this time in Little Rock, Ark.
The Eagles' run is one of the HDN's top stories from 2013.
Coming off that big summer in 2012, Hays finished 28-19 after it suffered back-to-back losses in the Mid-South Regional.
The season was highlighted by a powerful offense that averaged approximately seven runs per game and put up at least 11 runs in each of its four state tournament games. The club was led by Hutchison, who was coming off a record-setting spring for Class 5A Hays High, and Clayton Basgall, a La Crosse High School product who only played baseball in the summer. Basgall was coming off an ACL tear the summer prior.
Both already had made commitments to play at the collegiate level -- Hutchison at Neosho Community College and Basgall at Fort Hays State University. They were two of four who signed collegiatly, along with first baseman Chandler Rule and catcher Jake Sedbrook -- both with FHSU.
Hutchison finished the summer hitting .470 and Basgall .389. The duo combined for 30 doubles, nine home runs and 96 RBIs.
In addition, Rule and John Griffith from WaKeeney each added 38 RBIs for the club, which scored its opponents 346-227.
The summer, though, didn't start well in a brutal tournament that took Hays through Manhattan, North Platte, Neb., Longmont, Colo., and Omaha, Neb. The Eagles were 11-10 before they started rolling in the second half of the summer. Hays won 13 of its final 20 games heading into the state tournament at Larks Park -- what turned out to be a wild state finale.
The Eagles earned two run-rule victories against Leavenworth and Finney County but ran into a mainstay at the state level in Pittsburg. The teams competed in an epic 18-12 battle that went 10 back-and-forth innings.
In that game, Hays trailed 7-1 entering the top of the seventh inning.
"You felt really discouraged, and you kind of felt like maybe there wasn't any hope anymore," second-year coach Brad Kelly said at the time.
But Hays rallied with three runs in the seventh and six in the eighth. Trailing by two late, Hays was down to its last out twice but eventually tied the game n singles by Dan Bittel and Hutchison.
"We just had so much fight in us," Hutchison said. "We were up against the ropes. We went down swinging literally, and we had come back on top. It felt great. I had goose bumps throughout the last inning."
Hays went on to defeat Newton in the title game, 11-8, then fell twice to Tupelo, Miss., and Texarkana, Ark., in the regional.
Along the way, Hays pitcher Layne Downing made headlines of his own. He became the team's ace with a 6-3 record and a 2.14 earned-run average in 10 starts. He was one of three pitchers to gain at least four victories, along with Kade Parker (5-3) and Marcus Altman (4-2), all of whom should be back in 2014.