No jerseys? No problem
Tonganoxie wins gray T-shirt contest, 13-6
Credit the Tonganoxie High baseball team for remaining undaunted. The Chieftains' postseason couldn't have got off to a worse start.
When the THS players rolled up to the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds on Monday afternoon for their first-round regional matchup with visiting Atchison, they had double vision.
Seems AHS showed up at Tonganoxie donned in pretty much the same uniforms as the Chieftains.
"We walked up and they were all in red," THS coach Phil Loomis said of the road-team Redmen. "Their uniforms are identical to ours except they've got the gold trim."
For a moment Loomis pondered painting the park red by keeping the Chieftains in their home jerseys, but thought better of it.
"We don't want to look like them," he said.
So the Chieftains ran out on their home field for the final time this season in their gray batting practice T-shirts.
That's when things really appeared to go awry as the game began and it looked as though the BP garb was bringing some bad luck. THS starting pitcher Tyler Lupton walked the first three Atchison batters and loaded the bases with no outs.
Maybe it was then that those breathable tees came in handy because the sophomore Lupton didn't sweat the scenario. He got the next AHS batter to pop up. Then he battled the following hitter for a strikeout. Next the ultimate momentum swing came as AHS, by some miscommunication, sent its runner on third home during a Lupton pitch and catcher Blaize Oelschlaeger, waiting five feet in front of the plate with the ball in his mitt, slapped a tag on the runner's face for the third out of the inning. Advantage T-Shirts.
The Chieftains took the momentum and ran with it, cruising to a 13-6 win and a spot in the regional semifinals.
Loomis said the underclassman on the mound did well by settling down in the rough first inning and realizing the situation wasn't too large to handle.
"He's a sophomore, and he was nervous," the coach said of Lupton. "(But) he stepped up with the rest of the team and did great."
Loomis wasn't joking when he said "the rest of the team" either. Literally every player who took the field for THS versus Atchison either scored a run, drove in a run or did both.
The Chieftains first created separation in the bottom of the third when they scored three runs, which gave them a 5-2 advantage. Logan Forbis drove in two of those runs with a double to center field and later scored the other run on a passed ball, one of countless mishaps for the Redmen, who also committed six errors. Forbis said the players remained positive despite early obstacles because they trust each other.
"I knew (Lupton) would turn it around because he's a good pitcher and our team will come through and hit," Forbis said.
At one point, Lupton admitted, he wasn't nearly as confident.
"I was nervous. I thought I was gonna blow the game for us, but I started finding the zone. They started grounding out and I started striking them out," said Lupton, who fanned five in four innings. "We got the job done."
Most of that work came in a six-run fourth for Tonganoxie that featured three two-run singles - first by Rob Schlicht, then Jace Waters and finally Brandon Yoder.
With an 11-2 lead entering the fifth, Loomis decided to get some other pitchers some work. Waters pitched the fifth, Schlicht threw in the sixth and Keith Wentz-Hall closed the game in the seventh.
The coach said he seized an opportunity to get those pitchers some work while keeping Waters fresh for the following day. In doing so, he also mixed and matched players throughout the field, but Lupton, who pitched, caught and played left on Monday, said THS has the utility players to pull that off.
"We have so much depth," he said of his teammates and their defensive flexibility.
Of course they are flexible. They can even win a postseason game without their jerseys.
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