Unbeaten Railer baseball ready for 2-1A tourney

By Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
Tyson Jimenez and the Ellis baseball team will open the Class 2-1A state tournament on Thursday against Maranatha Academy in Great Bend.

Coach Brent Cain thought last year’s baseball team for Ellis High School had the potential to do great things. But the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season before it even started.

This year’s Railroader club hopes to make the most of the opportunity, making the Class 2-1A state tournament with a chance to win it all.

Ellis not only qualified for the season finale, the Railers are the No. 1 seed. Ellis (19-0) will play No. 8 Shawnee-Maranatha  Christian Academy (10-8) at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at the Great Bend Sports Complex. The semifinals, third-place contest and championship game are scheduled for Friday. 

“I really thought last year would have been one of our better years,” said Cain, Ellis’ coach since the 2016 season. “We had three really solid seniors. They would have started in the infield, probably would have hit 3-4-5 in the order, had lots of baseball experience.”

This year’s team looks for the program’s first state title. The Railers lost in the first round at state under Cain in 2016 and finished runner-up the following year. Cain said the school had one other state appearance before he arrived. A state title would be memorable for the program and the community.

“It would be huge,” Cain said. “It’s what these kids work for.”

The Railers’ probable starter in the state opener is senior right-hander Tegan Cain, the coach’s son. He is 8-0 on the season with a 0.30 earned-run average, allowing just 11 hits in 46 ⅔ innings, with 12 walks and 98 strikeouts.

If Ellis gets past the opener, junior left-hander Tyson Jimenez would likely get the nod in the semifinals. Jimenez also is 8-0, with a 2.60 ERA, and has given up 12 hits in 35 innings, with 17 walks and 51 strikeouts. The Railers’ third starter is junior right-hander Easton Burton (3-0, 3.00 ERA), who has thrown 21 innings, surrendering 11 hits with four walks and 21 strikeouts. Ellis has a 1.83 team ERA.

Ellis has allowed just 34 runs this season while scoring 222. The Railers are batting .373 as a team. Cain, who will play for Barton Community College next year, is hitting .585 with two home runs and 39 runs batted in, both best on the team. Jimenez, the Railers’ leadoff man, is batting .426 with two homers and 23 RBIs. Also the team’s center fielder, Jimemez leads the Railers in extra-base hits (15) and runs scored (37).

Senior catcher Konnor Pfeifer bats second and is hitting .327 with two homers and 21 RBIs. Cain, who plays first base when not on the mound, hits third, and shortstop Burton (1 HR, 17 RBI, .322) is the cleanup hitter.

“We knew our pitching was going to be strong,” Cain said. “Offensively, I knew we had some kids who were capable of putting up some good numbers.”

It’s the gloves that could make the difference.

“Defensively, we’re going to need to make plays,” Cain said. “This team (Maranatha Christian) is going to put the ball in play.”

Cain believes Ellis’ first-round opponent is better than its record.

“Being the one seed, we got a tough draw,” Cain said. “Maranatha is a private school, and they play a lot of bigger schools in the Kansas City area. Their record may be a little less than some of the others, but they play a pretty tough schedule.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” he added. “At this point, all the teams should be good, and you go in hoping you’re playing your best baseball and see what happens.”