TMP knocks off top seed but falls in regional final

Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
Mark Rack brings a pitch to the plate in the regional semifinal against Larned on Wednesday at Larks Park.

The Thomas More Prep-Marian/La Crosse baseball team faced another big deficit in its last at-bat during Wednesday night’s Class 3A regional championship game against Minneapolis. The Monarchs rallied from seven runs down to win in extra innings on Monday to advance to the semifinals.

TMP pushed across a pair of runs in the seventh in the title game, but the rally came up short as the Monarchs fell 7-3 to Minneapolis at Larks Park.

“This group has a lot of heart,” TMP coach Aaron Breit said. “You don’t lose until the last out’s made.”

Early on, it did not appear the Monarchs would be in position to get back in the game after a combination of errors and a dominant start by Lions lefty Spencer Davidson put TMP in a 4-0 hole after three innings.

The Monarchs committed five errors in that span, leading to three unearned runs given up by junior starter Jace Wentling.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Breit said of his club, which finished with six errors. “Unfortunately, this was one of our worst games of the year as far as defensively.”

The Monarch batters also could not solve Davidson, a Fort Hays State University signee who came into the game with a 0.84 earned-run average. The tall left-hander, who tossed a no-hitter in his first start of the season, overmatched the Monarchs with a good fastball, mixing in a curve to keep the hitters off-balance. Davidson (6-3) shut out TMP on three hits over five innings, with three walks and 11 strikeouts.

“We’ve had a little bit of difficulty all season with running into velocity,” Breit said. “We were able to get into counts we wanted to, we just couldn’t catch up with the fastball.”

TMP did make Davidson pile up his pitch count, forcing him to exit after the fifth after throwing more than 100 pitches. That gave the Monarchs a chance to try their luck against the Lions’ relievers.

“Our lineup, one through nine, that’s where we succeed the most is seeing pitches, work deep counts,” Breit said. “That’s our main approach. Any pitcher, we want to work deep counts, put pressure on the pitcher.”

TMP (12-11) broke through for a run in the top of the sixth against Minneapolis senior reliever Nolan White. Junior Caden Morgan led off the inning with a walk, advanced to second on a groundout and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Junior Nicholas Herrman walked and stole second, with Morgan scoring on the play on a throwing error by the Minneapolis catcher.

Minneapolis (15-7) responded with three runs in the home half of the sixth.

“You try to eliminate those big innings,” Breit said. “They come back to haunt you.”

Wentling (1-3) pitched a complete game, allowing seven runs, four earned, on six hits, with five walks and six strikeouts.

“He pounded the strike zone, kept them off-balance,” Breit said. “Unfortunately, it was just one of those days.”

TMP got its two runs in the seventh off Lions junior right-hander Weston Schrader. Wentling singled with one out and advanced on an error by the Lions right fielder. Junior Mark Rack’s single scored Wentling and Rack came home on a double by sophomore Chet Irvin. But Schrader settled down to get the final two outs, sending Minneapolis to the state tournament for the second time in school history.

Davidson, who entered the day batting .571 on the season, singled and doubled with a run scored and an RBI in the title game. Wentling had two singles and a double and a run scored for TMP. Rack added two hits, a run and an RBI.

The Monarchs had only one senior on the postseason roster.

“It was a great season,” Breit said. “They’ve got to build off this season.”

TMP 4, Larned 0

The Monarchs advanced to the title game by knocking off top seed Larned in the semifinals.

Rack (4-4) pitched a gem for TMP, allowing his defense to do the work behind him. The right-hander tossed a four-hit shutout, with two hits and two strikeouts, and the Monarchs played errorless ball.

“Mark threw his best game of the year at no better time,” Breit said. “He pounded the strike zone, kept hitters off-balance. He did a fantastic job.”

TMP scored two runs in the first off Larned starter Gavin Alverez (3-1). The Indian right-hander allowed four runs on nine hits in five-plus innings, with one walk and four strikeouts. The Monarchs got RBIs from Irvin and Herrman in the first. Irvin singled in a run in the fourth and Herrman brought home the final run in the fifth with his single.

“Runs you get early always take the weight off your shoulders, especially a young group,” Breit said. “It takes some of the pressure off.”

The 8-7 comeback win in 11 innings against Russell/Victoria in the regional opener on Monday gave a boost to the Monarchs heading into the semifinals, where TMP ended a 14-game winning streak by Larned (16-5).

“That comeback on Monday, we had some momentum,” Breit said. “I told the group we had to carry it into this game.”