The Hays High baseball team has its sights set on contending for a state championship this spring, and the Indians looked like a team with the potential to do just that when they opened their season with a pair of wins over Kapaun Mt. Carmel on Thursday at Indian Field.
After a 6-4 win in Game 1, the Indians shut down the Crusaders, a frequent qualifier for the Class 5A state tournament, in the second game, 7-0.
With eight seniors on the Hays High team — three of whom have already signed to play in college — the leadership and experience is there for a deep run.
“When you have a veteran team, you hope they take it as far as they can take it,” Hays High coach Frank Leo said.
“A lot of these seniors have been starting for a long time.”
Two of those seniors believe the squad has talent to make the lofty goals attainable ones, as well.
“The goal is going all the way and winning it,” senior Cole Schumacher said.
“It’s definitely realistic with this group of guys.”
A Hays High dog pile at the 4A-I state tournament in Salina would be the first, but that doesn’t seem to phase senior Drew Young, the starting shortstop who returned to baseball after playing AAU basketball last spring.
“Our team motto is, ‘Why not us,’ so why not us to win a state championship?” Young said. “We want to make a difference in the Hays High baseball program and do something that other people haven’t.”
The year away from the diamond didn’t seem to bother Young, who was second in scoring on the Hays High basketball team this winter. The shortstop had an error-free day and went 3-for-4 at the plate with four RBI.
“He was flawless defensively,” Leo said. “Offensively, he had some two-strike hits and some RBI. He got his feet wet today, but he was ready to play.”
Young legged out an RBI triple over the center fielder’s head to open the scoring in the bottom of the second, his first at bat of the season.
The Crusaders got to Indian starter Marcus Altman and took the lead in the third on a two run triple from Koby Nguyen.
Hays High designated hitter Braydon Delzeit played with a brace on his right knee, representing a knee injury that was expected to keep him in the dugout this season, but the senior tied the game at two with a single in the bottom of the frame.
Altman allowed two more runs in the fourth on another triple that landed just beyond the outstretched glove of Hays High center fielder Jarett Pfannenstiel.
That, however, was the last time a Crusader touched home in the doubleheader.
The Indian starter struck out two batters in a scoreless fifth that allowed the Indians to tie the game in their next trip to the plate. Junior third baseman Tyrone Wynn plated Delzeit, who opened the inning with a single, before Schumacher tied the game at four with a two-out RBI single.
Altman worked around a leadoff single in the sixth for another scoreless frame.
In the bottom half, the Indians took the lead on a costly Crusader two-out error. Pfannenstiel skied a ball to shallow right field that landed after none of the three Crusaders in the area took charge. Seniors Jared Haynes and Dalton Stout ran on contact and scored on the play to make it 6-4.
Altman fanned the first two Kapaun Mt. Carmel hitters in the seventh before a walk ended his day, one his coach called his best start of his prep career. He finished with four runs given up on six hits with seven strikeouts against five walks.
“Marcus gave us what we needed,” Leo said. “His location was very good today. It was consistent. He wasn’t all over the place. He keeps getting better. That’s going to be a big plus for us.”
Schumacher earned a one-out save, as a Crusader batter looked at strike three to end the game.
The future Fort Hays State Tiger also had two hits alongside Altman and Delzeit, while Pfannenstiel led the team with three in the season opener.
“Our first game definitely had some times we could’ve gotten down on ourselves, but we kept our composure and came out with the win,” Schumacher said. “The second game, we played perfect… Not perfect, but we got exactly done what we wanted to do.”
When the Crusader junior Chris Meitzner stepped in the batter’s box to start Game 2, Schumacher was back on the bump.
That was bad news for the visitors. He struck out two in the first inning and took the mound with a lead in the second thanks to a two-out, bases-loaded single from Delzeit.
After a scoreless second, the home team doubled its lead on a sacrifice fly from Young. The inning ended after a Hays High base runner was thrown out at third following a two-out single from Altman.
It was base running that bordered on too aggressive considering the circumstances, but it was one of few Indian miscues in the season opener. The ones that were present are to be expected on day one.
“We made some base running mistakes,” Leo said. “I thought off-speed pitches were beating us today; we had a lot of popups. (There were) some balls in the outfield I thought we should’ve gotten better jumps on. These are things, the more game action, the better we’re going to get.”
Senior Connor Rule, a Kansas State baseball signee, opened the third inning with a walk and came around to score alongside Delzeit on a two-run single from Pfannenstiel. Young followed up with a single through the left side to make it 5-0. Schumacher capped a four-run frame with a sacrifice fly.
Kapaun Mt. Carmel was limited to an infield single in the fifth and went down in order in the sixth before Young plated the final run with single flared into right. His final hit of the day was the product of a plate approach that lends itself to a lot of balls hit to the opposite field.
“I try to hit the ball to right field most of the time because usually I get way out in front of it,” Young said. “When I get way out in front, my left foot comes out.”
Young ended the twin bill, as he neatly fielded the game-ending double play. Schumacher went the distance, allowing only two hits and four walks compared to six strikeouts. It was the second of two strong outings from Indian starters.
“I thought both of our pitchers did outstanding,” Leo said.
“(Cole’s) a competitor. He has one gear and it’s high compete.”
After two games, Young, Pfannenstiel, Delzeit and junior Jace Armstrong are all batting .500 or better. Young and Pfannenstiel also lead the team in RBI with four and three, respectively.
As impressive as Thursday’s wins were against a Crusader team that took two from the Indians a year ago, it was just that, an opener. The Indians’ focus now lies in the continuing their strong start at the Derby triangular on Tuesday.
“We want to come out and play like that every game,” Young said. “That first game was really close, great intensity at the end, and then, we just carried it over to that second game.”