The matchup between two of the top pitchers in the Western Athletic Conference lived up to its billing.
In a showdown between aces, Hays High’s Trey Riggs and Liberal’s Braxton Hyde put on a show in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader at Indian Field.
With little margin for error, Riggs narrowly out-dueled Hyde, tossing a complete-game shutout to help the Indians edge the Redskins 1-0 in game one.
“When you see another pitcher out there that’s a good pitcher like Hyde is, you have to bring your best game and compete until you don’t have anything left,” Riggs said.
In game two, the Indians (13-1) used a 10-run third inning to run-rule Liberal, picking up a 13-3 win in five innings.
With the senior day sweep, Hays High clinched its 18th WAC championship in program history.
“It just shows us that we’re a good ball club this year,” Riggs said. “We’ve been trying to dream big this whole year. Now that we’ve won WAC, it feels pretty good. We’ve got that under our belt. Now we just got to go win regionals.”
The Indians scored the lone run in the fourth inning when Dominic Bainter was hit by a pitch with the bases full after three straight singles from Riggs, Brock Lummus and Dylan Dreiling.
“We knew going in that Braxton Hyde was going to give us everything we could handle,” Hays High coach Frank Leo said. “You flip back the calendar a year ago, Liberal and Braxton Hyde beat Trey Riggs one to nothing. We knew coming in it was going to be that kind of ballgame. It lived up to the hype.”
Riggs, 4-1 on the season, surrendered just three hits and one walk while striking out eight.
“I felt good when I started warming up in the pen and I just carried it out here,” Riggs said. “I tried to get ahead early, and when I get ahead early I can use my secondary pitches.”
After an error and two wild pitches, Liberal put the potential tying run at third base with no outs in the fifth, but Riggs escaped damage with a lineout and back-to-back strikeouts.
Liberal (10-6) used a two-out single and an Indian error to put runners on first and second in the top of the seventh. However, Riggs induced a groundout to end the game.
“The big thing a pitcher has to do, if there’s an error, he definitely can’t come back and walk somebody,” Leo said. “He’s got to come back and get that next guy out. He did that.
“We talk to our guys about, if somebody makes an error, that’s your guys’ job to say, ‘Hey guys, I got your back. I’m going make the next play, you’re going to come back and make a play.' I thought we did a good job of that after we made a couple boots there.”
The Indians led 3-1 in the second game before exploding for 10 runs in the third. Josh Haynes, Willie Sennett, Cody Petersen, Palmer Hutchison, Brock Lummus and Bainter all had RBI hits in the inning.
“I thought we had some great two-strike at-bats,” Leo said. “We had a good game plan today. We held off on pitches up, because anything that was in the air today would get hung up. I thought we hit some good hard ground balls and line drives.”
Hays put up 12 hits in the nightcap, with Petersen, Lummus and Bainter collecting two hits each.
Hutchison went four innings on the mound, allowing three runs (two earned) on two hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Chance Murphy worked a perfect fifth inning to close it out.
Leo said he was encouraged to see the Indians bounce back from their first loss after falling 7-6 to Great Bend last Thursday.
“That was a tough loss, a heartbreaking loss to Great Bend,” Leo said. “I know Trey Riggs kind of put that on his shoulders. He’s our guy and he didn’t get it done in the seventh inning, and I think it was in the back of his mind that he wasn’t going to let that happen again.”
The Indians honored their six-player senior class of Hutchison, Riggs, Sennett, Petersen, Murphy and Brandon Hoffman between games.
By winning the WAC title, Leo said the Indians accomplished their first major goal for this season and will now set their sights on bigger things.
“When you’re in a conference you want to compete and win that conference — that’s the first step,” Leo said. “A lot of big steps for this ball club. I told them they have a very high ceiling. If they keep playing together the way they’re playing and everybody contributes whenever called upon, good things can happen.
“We talked at the beginning of the year, ‘Let’s dream big. There’s only once chance to go around in this world — do it right, let’s get after it.’ Our guys kind of have that motto.”
Up next, the Indians will host the Western Plains Diamond Classic at Indian Field next Thursday through Saturday.
“It’s going to be a tough tournament,” Leo said. “We open against Manhattan. You got Manhattan ranked in the top 10 in 6A, you’ve got Goddard-Eisenhower ranked in the top 10 in 5A, we’re ranked in the top 10 in the 5A, Salina Central’s here. It’s going to be a great tournament. We just got to go game by game.”