Chieftain baseball splits with Chargers
Tonganoxie High baseball coach Phil Loomis knows he doesn't have a stable of big boppers and power arms to rely on this spring.
So he's kept busy preaching the need for his team to take care of the smallest details if it wants to be successful, not just in the Kaw Valley League, but beyond.
On Monday night, the Chieftains discovered just how fine is the line their coach keeps talking about during a doubleheader against perennial KVL power Santa Fe Trail at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds.
Despite two crafty pitching performances, the Chieftains came away with just one victory when one untimely miscue -- a botched rundown play -- reared its ugly head. As a result, Santa Fe Trail escaped with a 3-2 victory in nine innings in the opener before Tonganoxie salvaged a split with a 5-3 triumph in the nightcap.
"Our pitching's been pretty adequate," Loomis said. "We've just got to do enough little things to stay effective. And that's where we struggle sometimes."
The newest lesson cropped up with two outs in the top of the ninth during Monday's opening game. After putting runners on second and first, Santa Fe Trail appeared to run itself out of the inning when, with a full count on hitter Caleb Bahner, the trail runner bolted for second base -- mistaking the 2-2 offering for ball four.
The false break ultimately led to a rundown involving both runners, a tag attempt that saw the ball fall to the dirt, an errant throw, and the two runners finally moving up a base.
Sure enough, Bahner followed up by lining the full-count offering to left field for an RBI single that proved to be the difference, spoiling a strong relief effort by Tonganoxie sophomore Jace Waters.
"That's what we talked about," Loomis said. "That's what we made a commitment as a team, is defensively, we're not going to give away games," said Loomis of the between-game chat with his ballclub.
While the opener found the execution lacking at times, the nightcap showed how the Chieftains (5-4 overall, 3-2 KVL) can play with anyone when they don't shoot themselves in the foot.
A perfectly executed sacrifice bunt set the stage for Tonganoxie's first two runs, while Logan Forbis' two-run double -- the third of three consecutive hits against Santa Fe Trail starter Perry Boyd -- highlighted a three-run fifth.
Meanwhile, Chieftains starter Chris Folsom and relievers Kevin Gill and Keith Wentz-Hall kept the Chargers in check, scattering six hits.
In fact, Gill may have thrown the single-most important inning of the night. Taking over in the top of the fifth after Folsom walked the bases loaded with nobody out, the junior right-hander limited Santa Fe Trail to just one run via a sacrifice while wiggling out of any further damage.
Tonganoxie would answer with its big fifth inning, allowing Gill to earn the win.
"Kevin hasn't got a lot of experience this year," Loomis said. "He's kind of my one-inning pitcher that I ask him to come in and throw strikes. Wentz-Hall's the guy I've thought of as the closer. They both did a perfect job."
The Game 2 victory gives the Chieftains a nice jolt of momentum entering a 4 p.m. Thursday doubleheader at Perry-Lecompton, followed by Friday's much-anticipated matchup against Lansing at CommunityAmerica Ballpark -- a single game scheduled for 6 p.m.
"We know, looking down the road at regionals ... our regional is just stacked," Loomis said. "If we're going to do well at regionals we need to play at a high level every game. That's what we're looking at."
Santa Fe Trail 3, Tonganoxie 2, 9 inn.
Santa Fe Trail 100 000 101 - 3 8 3
Tonganoxie 000 001 100 - 2 5 3
Corey Wells, Nathan Cooper (8) and Greg Nilges. Erick Lowe, Jace Waters (5) and Jake Heskett. W - Cooper. L - Waters.
TONGANOXIE 5, SANTA FE TRAIL 3
Santa Fe Trail 001 010 1 - 3 6 1
Tonganoxie 020 030 x - 5 5 4
Perry Boyd and Greg Nilges. Chris Folsom, Kevin Gill (5), Keith Wentz-Hall (6) and Jake Heskett. W - Gill. L - Boyd. S - Wentz-Hall.