Railers win third place in Class 2-1A

By Randy Gonzales
Special to Hays Daily News
The Ellis baseball team took third place in Class 2-1A. [Submitted/Wendy Honas]
Ellis' Tegan Cain throws to first base on Friday in the Class 2A-1A state tournament.

GREAT BEND — The Ellis High School baseball team won its final game of the season on Friday and players hoisted silverware into the air. It wasn’t a championship trophy, but a third-place plaque from the Class 2-1A state tournament at Great Bend Sports Complex. Still, Railroader coach Brent Cain was proud of his team’s accomplishments this season.

“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year we would have gotten third at state, I would have said, ‘Let’s go,’ ” Cain said. “We had a good chance in that semifinal game. I think we were good enough to beat them. Unfortunately, we had some lapses defensively and could not push any runs across.”

Ellis lost 3-0 to Valley Falls in Friday’s semifinals but came back to beat Spearville 14-4 in five innings in the third-place contest.

“Most tournaments, you lose on the final day and you go home,” Cain said. “Here, you have to pick yourself up and play another game, which is hard to do. I told them we had one of two choices: We can pout and hang our heads and lose another one, or we can pick ourselves up and end this thing the right way. They responded.”

Ellis jumped on Spearville for five runs in the Railers’ first at-bat. Three straight singles loaded the bases and Lancer senior right-hander Kenneth Zimmerman walked in a couple runs. Another run scored on an error, senior Jaryn Wildeman’s fielder’s choice drove in another and junior Samuel Honas hit an RBI single.

That was all Railer junior starter Easton Burton needed. He scattered six hits over five innings, with one walk and two strikeouts, to finish the season at 4-0.

“Pitching has been our strength since Day One, and timely hitting,” Cain said. “Both of those things came through in that second game. That was a good sign, our boys being able to come back from that loss.”

Ellis added two runs in the second. Senior Konnor Pfeifer tripled and scored on a wild pitch and sophomore Jarret Mader’s grounder scored another. After Spearville scored twice in the third, Ellis plated six runs in the fourth. Senior Tegan Cain, the coach’s son, and junior George Crawford hit RBI singles, and senior Zachary Schiel’s grounder scored another.

Spearville (13-11) scored two more runs in the top of the fifth but Ellis scored a run on an error in the home half to end the game by run rule. Cain had three hits with an RBI and four runs scored, and Pfeifer added two hits with three runs scored.

Errors hurt Ellis in the semifinal earlier in the day. Junior left-hander Tyson Jimenez was the starter, allowing just three hits, but five Railer errors led to three unearned runs. Jimenez (8-1) walked two, one intentional, with 10 strikeouts.

“I thought he pitched great,” Cain said. “He gave us a chance to win the ballgame.”

Valley Falls broke a scoreless tie with two runs in the fifth, helped by two Ellis errors. Two more Railer errors gave the Dragons another run in the sixth.

Valley Falls entered the semifinal coming off a 15-inning win the night before. The Dragons used three pitchers in the state opener, with junior Brennen Miller finishing for the victory. Miller got the start against Ellis, pitching a complete game. The right-hander allowed four hits, with three walks and three strikeouts.

“This year we’re pretty blessed with having a lot of arms,” Valley Falls coach Cameron Hall said.

Hall said he wants his players to pitch to contact.

“We just tell our pitchers to throw a lot of strikes,” he said. “We challenge our pitchers to throw a lot of strikes because we want to let hitters hit, let your defense work.”

Hall said the Dragons also want to be aggressive on the bases and make the other team make mistakes. That paid off against Ellis.

“That’s our philosophy as a team,” Hall said. “We put pressure on people. The kids did a good job of that today.”

Cain had said going into the tournament that his team’s defensive play would be important.

“They put a little bit of pressure on us, to force us to make some plays,” Cain said. “The nerves and speed of the game caught us a little bit.”

Valley Falls (21-3), which was seeking its first state title in school history, went on to lose 11-1 to Sedgwick (25-1) in the championship game.

Ellis (21-1) loses four seniors — Cain, Pfeifer, Schiel and Wildeman —  off its 15-player state roster.

“Those four guys have the highest winning percentage of any class that’s come through Ellis baseball,” Cain said. “They’ve meant a lot to our program. They have left our program in a  great place, and now we’ve got to ask that junior class to step in and keep going.”

THURSDAY'S GAME 

Ellis was in unfamiliar territory in the opener on Thursday. The Railroaders gave up the lead and had just nine outs left to avoid elimination against Shawnee-Maranatha Christian Academy.

The Railroaders, who surrendered the tying and go-ahead run in the top of the fifth, rallied for four runs in the home half of the inning to regain the lead. Ellis barely held on to its three-run advantage, winning 5-4.

“We haven’t been behind too often,” Cain said. “It was a huge response by our guys.”

 Cain was protecting a 1-0 lead going into the top of the fifth before the Eagles scored twice. Ellis responded in the home half. Senior Zach Schiel led off with a single and the No. 9 hitter, Honas, tried to bunt him over but also reached on a bunt single. Schiel eventually scored on a wild pitch to tie the game. Jimenez walked and Cain also walked one out later to load the bases for Burton. He singled home two runs to regain the lead for the Railers, and Mader followed with an RBI single to make it 5-2.

“We had our 8-9 guys leading off that inning and they both got on with singles,” Cain said. “It was great to see the bottom of the order come through like that for us.

“(Burton is) probably one of our best situational hitters,” Cain added. “Absolutely have confidence in him in any situation.”

Tegan Cain (9-0) had to leave after six innings due to the pitch count rule. He allowed two runs on three hits with 10 strikeouts.

“He ended up settling in; a little bit of a rocky start,” Coach Cain said. “He found his groove, started to get through the lineup.

“They were definitely a good ballcub,” he added. “They had a good approach at the plate, were disciplined hitters.”

Coach Cain hoped to have Jimenez come in to pitch an easy seventh, but Maranatha (10-9) got a two-out, two-run single from junior Isaiah Beck to make it a one-run game. Cain had to remove Jimenez after he got to an 0-2 count on the next batter so he would be eligible to pitch on Friday. Burton came in to pitch to freshman Graden Oswald, and got him swinging on his third pitch for the save.

“We had confidence in Burton, that he would be able to come in and get that final strike,” Cain said. “If Tyson would have thrown one more pitch he wouldn’t have been able to go (Friday)."

Jimenez (3-0) will be the probable starter against Valley Falls.

“I think that’s the plan, roll him out there, see how things go,” Cain said.

Beck, who pitched five innings for the Eagles, gave up a run in the first when Jimenez singled, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch on the play, then scored on another wild pitch. But Beck held the Railers in check from there until the fifth.

“He was really good,” Cain said. “He was probably the hardest thrower we’ve seen all year.”