Hays High played championship-caliber baseball in two of the three facets of the game in Wednesday's Class 4A Division I regional semifinal against Buhler at Indian Field.
Cole Murphy was dominant on the mound and the Indians made several tough plays in the field.
Unfortunately, Hays' bats went silent at the worst time, managing just three hits in a season-ending 1-0 loss. The lone run came on a solo home run from Buhler's Lawson Schultz in the bottom of the fourth.
"You want to play two facets of the game and think you're going to have a shot to win," Hays High coach Frank Leo said. "We played tremendous defense. Palmer Hutchison was a man at third base. He made major league play after major league play. And you got to compliment Trey Vanpelt at first base. He did a good job handling some low throws that skipped.
"But the guy today was Cole Murphy. He didn't deserve to lose that game. Unfortunately somebody had to lose it. One pitch he'd like to have back. Their best guy barreled that ball well. But I'm very proud of Cole's effort. We had options for who we wanted to go with, but we gave the ball to a senior we felt confident in. He gave us every bit of an opportunity to win that ballgame."
Murphy allowed just three hits and no walks with three strikeouts. But his counterpart on the mound, Buhler's Dawson Dreher, also surrendered just three hits and didn't give up a walk to earn the shutout. He retired Hays' last nine batters of the game.
"It's a lesson for all pitchers," Leo said. "(Dreher) wasn't overpowering. He had a little bit of an offspeed pitch and pounded the zone with strikes. Got us out in front for a lot of popups. We never adjusted.
"Any young pitcher watching that can say, 'Hey, I don't have to be a power arm. All I have to do is pitch a little bit and throw strikes.' I thought his poise was good."
Hays' best chance to get on the board came in the top of the first after Willie Sennett attempted to score from second on a single from Trey Riggs. However, Buhler right fielder Taiden Hawkinson threw Sennett out at the plate.
"It was bang-bang," Leo said. "He probably got the good turf hop on the throw. If it's on grass it maybe doesn't take that clean hop. It was right on the money. Willie's one of our faster guys, so you know (Hawkinson) had to make a good play in the outfield to throw him out. It was close. The tag did beat him, but another half second later, and Willie's in."
The Indians, who ended the season at 12-9, never let their struggles at the plate carry over to the field. Hutchison made two highlight reel plays in the fifth to keep the energy level high.
"Sometimes momentum like that is big," Leo said. "You make big plays, your offense should feed on that, but we couldn't. We just got too anxious today offensively. I thought we barreled some balls but the ones we barreled went right at them. Just unfortunate.
"You can't fault the effort. I said (Tuesday) at practice, 'When you leave the field tomorrow, just give me your best shot,' and they did."
The Indians will lose six seniors — Murphy, VanPelt, Nick Fisher, Dawson Harman, Hunter Brown and Dago Cano.
"It's always sad to see a senior class go," Leo said. "You spend a lot of time at practice with these guys all year long for four years. You invest four years with them and they invest four years with you. You get to know them and they're all great people. They're all going to be successful and move on to different careers.
"As I told them, 'You're always going to be an Indian. Remember your Hays High days. It's time to take that next step.' And these guys are going to do that. We're going to miss them. We miss every senior class. They all buy into the tradition of Hays High baseball and these guys did the same."