Post 41 suffers 1st loss in zone opener
Previously unbeaten Tonganoxie surrenders 3-run lead in 7th
Kansas City, Kan. It didn’t take long for Tonganoxie’s Post 41 baseball team to discover the postseason isn’t going to be nearly as carefree as league play.
After steamrolling through the regular season undefeated, Tonganoxie tasted a loss for the first time this year Monday at Eisenhower Park, falling 9-8 to the Kansas City Cyclones in the first round of the Class AA Zone 2 double-elimination tournament.
Post 41 (20-1) was three outs away from keeping its unbeaten record intact before the Cyclones (5-15) scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning for the comeback win.
Tonganoxie coach Nick Walters said his team entered the zone tournament relishing the chance to see a step up in the level of competition after breezing through the regular season unscathed.
“We definitely got what we hoped for,” Walters said. “We did a lot of things right… The last inning just wasn’t ours.”
Indeed, the seventh belonged to Kansas City. The top of the inning began with a groundball taking a tough, high hop as it headed for Post 41 third baseman Amos White, who couldn’t field the soft chopper. The next K.C. hitter popped the ball high into the hot evening sun and both center fielder Austin Harkrader and right fielder Garret Elston lost it, allowing the would-be harmless fly to fall safely to the ground. Following a legit single up the middle, Tonganoxie relief pitcher Tyler Freeman walked a run home with the bases loaded before the Cyclones’ Andrew Schneider drove in the go-ahead runs with a three-run double just shy of the left-center wall.
Walters said the seventh-inning miscues allowed K.C. to score four runs.
“That’s all they needed and they got it,” the coach said.
According to Walters, the sentiment in the Tonganoxie dugout following the team’s loss wasn’t one of shock. Instead, he said his team was just mindful of the fact it had been outplayed in the final frame.
“We did a phenomenal job for nine-tenths of the game and couldn’t get the last three outs. That’s all there is to it,” Walters said, reiterating that the last inning “killed” them.
Tonganoxie still had a chance to tie or win the game in the bottom of the seventh, but after Austin Harkrader, who scored three runs in the loss, reached base with a one-out infield single, Kansas City retired Elston and Brett Shelton for the upset victory.
Walters thought that once the Cyclones started rallying, Tonganoxie’s players started to feel the pressure of a possible first loss.
“I kind of expected to get a couple of the balls that we didn’t get,” the coach said. “I’m sure the pressure was on with everybody. They’ve never been down in a game (this season), really.”
Post 41 scored twice in the bottom of the fifth, when Elston had a pair of runners in scoring position and drove in Cody Saladin and Harkrader with a two-run single to left field that put the zone tournament’s top seed ahead, 8-4.
The home team on the scoreboard, Tonganoxie was only up 5-4 in the fourth before Corey Klinkenberg knocked in Tucker Hollingsworth with a base hit the opposite way, to right field.
The bottom of the second was the most productive offensive inning for Post 41, which scored three runs to re-gain the lead. After Saladin singled and Harkrader drew a walk, an error on an Elston bunt to the pitcher allowed Saladin to score and tie the game at 3. Then Dylan Puhr banged a two-run single to center, putting Tonganoxie ahead, 5-3.
Though Puhr went 2-for-2 and drove in three runs, playing in the near triple-digit heat took its toll on the starting shortstop. He began to look out of sorts in the top of the second inning, when he made a throwing error on one play and bobbled a grounder by the next batter.
Puhr was part of a perfectly executed relay and throw out at third base in the top of the third inning. Harkrader hit the cut-off man, Puhr, who gunned out a K.C. runner at third, where White applied the tag to end the inning. However, Walters said Puhr got ill in the heat and he had to be removed from the lineup in the top of the fourth inning.
Tonganoxie took a 2-0 lead in the first, when Puhr drove home Harkrader and Freeman singled to center to score Puhr.
Starting pitcher AJ Gilbert went five and two-thirds innings for Post 41 and gave up four earned runs on seven hits and two strikeouts before being relieved by Freeman.
The reliever entered with two outs and a runner on third in the sixth. After surrendering a walk, Freeman got out of the inning by making a play at the plate. Following a wild pitch, catcher Saladin bounced back to recover the ball and Freeman quickly covered home to make the tag as the K.C. runner failed to score from third on the play.
Post 41 sent just seven batters to the plate in the final two innings and couldn’t score a run.
After seeing his team lose for the first time this season, Walters said he was glad the zone tournament was in the double-elimination format and there is a lot of baseball left for Tonganoxie to play.
“We’re not in any dire straits other than we’ve got to get the kids over the heat,” he said.
Post 41 will play either Wellsville or Baldwin in an elimination game at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Eisenhower Park.
K.C. Cyclones 9, Tonganoxie Post 41 8
Cyclones 0 3 1 0 0 1 4 — 9
Post 41 2 3 0 1 2 0 0 — 8
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