Historic run for Tonganoxie High baseball ends in championship game appearance
Salina Salina — Tonganoxie High baseball took fans on quite a ride last week at the Class 4A state tournament at Dean Evans Stadium in Salina.
THS got down early against Abilene in the quarterfinals and Paola in the semifinals.
But the Chieftains erased an early 3-0 lead against Abilene and then chipped away at a Paola lead before pulling ahead and holding off the Panthers, 7-5, in the semifinals.
Playing in the program’s first-ever state championship, Tonganoxie, the No. 2 seed, again fell behind early, this time against No. 1 seed McPherson. Unfortunately for the Chieftains, late-inning heroics wouldn’t be enough.
Trailing, 5-0, Tonganoxie was able to chase McPherson’s starting pitcher in the seventh and final inning. THS scored two runs and threatened to score more, but the Bullpups got their final out and then celebrated on the mound in a team pile for that program’s first state title in baseball.
A dejected Tonganoxie dugout looked on as the dog pile of McPherson players grew higher on the mound.
A state championship was the ultimate goal, but Tonganoxie’s accomplishments in 2022 were tremendously noteworthy.
• THS finished the year at 20-4, the program’s best record in school history.
• Tonganoxie placed second at state, marking the highest finish of any Chieftain baseball team. The previous best was third place in 1992 when Chris Herron was coach.
• The Chieftains won their first league title since 1995 after THS clinched the Frontier League championship this spring.
Asked about the season overall and the string of milestones, THS coach Mitch Loomis said it was an amazing year.
“It’s surreal when you lay it all out like that,” Loomis said. “We knew we had a chance to be pretty good … I don’t know whether anyone every fathomed were going to be as good as we were.”
Early in the season Loomis thought the team might be better than its record due to a rugged schedule of top teams in 5A and 4A.
THS was at 2-2 following a blowout loss to Ottawa at Adam LaRoche Tournament in Fort Scott.
“We really challenged them after that game,” Loomis said. “We were pretty blunt with our expectations.
“They responded really well.”
The response? Tonganoxie finished the regular season 16-3, which means the Chieftains won 14 of 15 games after that 2-2 start. The team went on an 8-game winning streak after those first four games and then, after a rematch loss to Basehor-Linwood, won 10 straight before losing to McPherson in the state championship.
Tonganoxie competed in the championship without the fielding services of Gabe Bailey. The first baseman got injured late in the Paola game stretching for an infield throw to first.
THS was a batter away from a potential Hollywood moment, but the script ended just short of that storyline.
Bailey was in the on-deck circle when McPherson recorded the final out.
Rocco Gehring hit a line drive deep to center field, but the MHS outfielder snagged it for the out.
“Obviously losing Gabe was a killer,” Loomis said. “His talent offers us a lot. His energy is what kids feed off, too.
“We had him pinch-hitting. We needed one more hit. Let him crawl to first and let him go from there.”
In the end, Tonganoxie finished as one of the top teams in the state, even if polls and rankings didn’t include THS as it kept piling up victories. But, as Loomis noted, the team kind of likes it that way under the radar.
“Credit goes to some of our seniors,” Loomis said about the unprecedented success this year. “They established standards of work ethic, putting in extra work and were focused every day.”
One of those seniors was Gehrig Goldbeck, who was an intricate part of the team behind-the-scenes as well.
“He’s one of the biggest reasons we got to where we did,” the coach said.
The accolades went beyond the second-place trophy at state.
Senior pitcher Owen Welsh was named all-state first team pitcher by the Kansas Baseball Coaches Association. He also was a unanimous pick for 4A state pitcher of the year.
Fellow senior standout pitcher Mason Davenport also was a first-team all-state pitcher for the Chieftains. He became the first player in school history to be a two-time first-team all-state selection. Goldbeck was 4A first-team all-state middle infielder, while junior Logan Wake was second team all-state catcher. Sophomore Trevor McGraw was named honorable mention all-state 4A as an outfielder.
As for Frontier League accolades, Godlbeck, Welsh and Wake were first-team all-league, Davenport and McGraw second team and Bailey, Mason Khanthaboury, Sam Kleidosty and Gehring honorable mention.