The Hays Eagles were one good bounce or a strike away from getting out of the bottom of the sixth inning with the lead in Saturday’s American Legion state title game.
Instead, Emporia kept the inning alive long enough to deliver what turned out to be a dagger to the Eagles’ title hopes.
With two outs and Hays protecting a 5-4 lead in the sixth, the Eagles issued a walk and Camden Kirmer reached on an infield single to load the bases for Hayden Baumwart.
Baumwart then drove one to deep to right field for a double, scoring three to stake Emporia to a two-run lead.
The Eagles put their first two batters on base in the top of the seventh but couldn’t capitalize, taking a 7-5 loss in the AA/AAA Legion championship game at Larks Park.
“The ball didn’t bounce our way there in the sixth,” Eagles coach Dustin Schumacher said. “Two infield hits and a walk, and one of their guys gets into one and that’s it.”
Brock Lummus drew a leadoff walk and Brady Kreutzer followed with a single for the Eagles in the seventh, but Emporia pitcher Jace Stewart retired the next three hitters to cement the state title for Emporia.
The Eagles had nine hits but left 10 on base.
“Just didn’t quite execute a couple times,” Schumacher said. “We would’ve had runners at second and third with one out (in the sixth), and ran into an out there and just didn’t quite execute there in the seventh inning to put any pressure on them.
“Hats off to them (Emporia), they played a great game, made some really nice plays on balls we hit in the gaps.”
The Eagles pulled off a dramatic rally in Saturday morning’s semifinal against Sabetha to reach the title game.
Hays trailed 4-2 heading to the bottom of the seventh. Cody Petersen and Palmer Hutchison drew walks to start the rally, then moved into scoring position after a stolen base from Petersen and a wild pitch. Trey Riggs singled down the left field line to bring in both runners and tie it at 4.
Riggs moved to second on another wild pitch and advanced to third on Brock Lummus' sac bunt.
Kreutzer then delivered the walkoff hit, blistering a line drive to left field to score Riggs, who tossed a complete game to earn the win.
“Great game, great job by our guys of sticking with it,” Schumacher said. “They brought in another good arm and we did a good job of getting people on and getting big hits to get it done.”
Kreutzer doubled in two runs in the top of the first inning of the final, but Emporia answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. Tate Garcia and Cody Petersen had back-to-back singles in the fourth and Kreutzer delivered another RBI double in the fifth to make it 5-2.
But Emporia scored five unanswered, starting with Beau Baumgardner's two-run home run in the fifth.
Garcia went 5 2/3 innings on the mound before being replaced by Palmer Hutchison.
“I thought he did a great job,” Schumacher said of Garcia’s start. “Just those little infield hits and that walk came back to haunt us. Just couldn’t get out of it. It’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes.”
Emporia battled through a grueling day, needing 11 innings to edge Iola 3-2 in the semifinal. Emporia will advance to next week’s regional tournament in Hastings, Neb.
The Eagles, who won Wild West Fest and Zone championships on the summer, finished the season 34-7.
“We had a great summer,” Schumacher said. “I’ve got a lot of good kids on the team, lot of good young men. At this point that’s what we’re going to hang our hat on. They did a great job battling for me all year. Just really appreciate them.”