The play Willie Sennett made for the Hays Senior Eagles on Sunday would have been impressive in any situation.
But the circumstances surrounding Sennett’s seventh-inning grab in the Wild Wild Fest tournament final against Buhler made the play even more stunning.
With Buhler runners at first and second and Hays clinging to a one-run lead with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Sennett saved the day for the Eagles, sprinting back to snag a ball hit deep to left center before colliding with center fielder Jamison Martin.
Sennett managed to hang on to the ball through the collision to seal a dramatic 5-4 win at Larks Park and help the Eagles repeat as WWF champions after winning four straight games on Sunday.
“I felt like I got a good jump,” Sennett said. “I just kind of ran back, saw it on the way in and felt Jamison come down underneath me. After I caught it, he came in and took my legs out, but I held on.”
Sennett’s catch was probably the difference between a WWF title and a runner-up finish for the Eagles. Both runners would have likely scored if the ball would have dropped.
“It’s an unbelievable play anyway,” Hays Eagles’ coach Dustin Schumacher said, “but to make a catch in that situation to end the game ... he doesn’t catch that ball, and the game’s over, we lose. Hats off to him, that’s just an unbelievable play.”
The Eagles (26-6) were in position to win comfortably after taking a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh against Buhler, but the Nationals rallied thanks to four hits, a walk and an Eagles’ error in the seventh.
Back-to-back two-out singles resulted in three runs for the Nationals before Sennett tracked down the ball hit deep by Braden Sides.
“There was a lot of pressure on that play,” Sennett said. “My heart kind of dropped a little bit, but I just took off and tried to stay on it.”
After falling 4-3 to the Wichita Astros on Saturday night, the Eagles were left no margin error on Sunday. They opened the day with a 10-0 win over the Wichita Tribe, beat McCook (Neb.) 7-3 in the second game and then won the rematch with the Astros, 7-5, to make the title game.
“We’ve kind of done it the tough way both years,” Sennett said. “It’s a good feeling to get it done, but it’s a lot of work — long days, especially on Sunday. Feels really good to get it done. It’s a grind.”
Schumacher credited Andrew Moore for giving the Eagles two key innings of relief against the Astros, allowing Hays to keep ace Trey Riggs available for the championship game.
“It was a grind all day today,” Schumacher said. “The game before this one, hats off to Andy Moore. He hadn’t thrown a whole lot of innings, comes in and throws two innings for us so we didn’t have to use Trey.”
Riggs cruised through scoreless six innings in the title game before Buhler launched its rally in the seventh.
“Battled through it there a little bit in the seventh, but those first six innings, he was great,” Schumacher said of Riggs. "Just really on top of his game and really did well.”
The Eagles took the lead on Palmer Hutchison’s two-run double in the top of the third. They tacked on another run in the third off a Buhler error and added two runs of needed insurance in the sixth on RBI singles by Josh Haynes and Brady Kreutzer.
The Eagles will play a doubleheader against Russell starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Hays High.
“I think we’ve turned a corner,” Schumacher said. “We started off kind of slow. We were still winning ball games early in the (summer) but not playing the way I thought we could play. I think we’re finally getting there.”