Linenberger: State title possible for Tonganoxie baseball with a little ‘here we go’
Midway through the Bishop Miege half of the second inning of a Class 4A regional baseball championship last week, my mind started to wander.
I’ve had many an “opportunity” to cover Tonganoxie vs. Bishop Miege in pretty much every postseason in recent years. THS football, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer and volleyball all have drawn the Stags in the postseason, sometimes on multiple occasions. It stands to reason geographically with Bishop Miege just down the road in suburban Kansas City. By the same token, Miege has hoisted trophy after trophy after trophy in recent years in various sports. And in several cases, Miege has dominated like a sports video gamer can roll through Madden NFL or the like.
None of the meetings with the Stags concluded with fairy-tale endings for the Chieftains, so as is customary sometimes with humans, we expect the worst.
And so all I could tell myself was “here we go again.”
Miege already had a 1-0 lead when they started stringing base hits together in the second. A Sam Kleidosty double-clutch throw from center field couldn’t get to third base before a sliding Miege baserunner, so instead of runners at the corners, that secondary baserunner moved to second and Miege had two players in scoring position.
In my head I was thinking my schedule would be opening up this week, but I didn’t get the memo from THS coach Mitch Loomis that the first two innings meant doom and gloom. While my thoughts were "here we go again," THS players thoughts undoubtedly were "here we go."
After the game, Loomis talked about how he preached to the team repeatedly this season that every inning is the same.
Early deficits can be negated because every inning has the same number of outs.
Early leads can be erased because every inning has the same number of outs.
Miege had no more hits after the first two innings and was held scoreless the rest of the way.
Tonganoxie had no hits until the final two innings. THS scored in those final two innings, including the first two runs happening due to patience at the plate. THS chased starting pitcher Victor Christal after the sophomore standout walked in two runs in the fifth.
Tonganoxie then scored four runs off Logan Thilges, another Miege sophomore, in the sixth, including Kleidosty’s three-run homer.
Entering regionals at 16-3, THS had one of its best regular seasons in program history this spring. THS boys basketball and football were in similar situations in recent seasons, only to run into Miege buzz saws in the postseason that prevented shots at state berths.
Miege baseball hasn’t had the stranglehold that other recent BMHS teams have in recent seasons in terms of back-to-however-many-back 4A titles, but the Stags were the defending state champs and Tonganoxie finally was able to defeat a Miege team in substate or regionals.
Fast forward to state week and THS now has a chance to put its name above Miege in the list of state champions.
That being said, there are seven other teams with the same aspiration as No. 2 seed Tonganoxie with its 18-3 record.
And, there are storylines aplenty that could come to fruition instead of a perfect Tonganoxie script that could end with the program’s first state title.
Some of those storylines:
• Paola and Clay Center/Wakefield return after state appearances last year, with the Panthers taking third and the Tigers finishing as runners-up. Both programs have that potential advantage of experience in being here a second consecutive year.
• The last No. 2 seed to win state was Arkansas City in 2018 when the Bulldogs defeated Bishop Miege, which defeated Tonganoxie, which as a No. 8 seed, upset No. 1 Paola that year. Since then, the state champion has been a No. 3 seed (Nickerson in 2019) and a No. 4 seed (Miege in 2020).
• THS is among six teams in this year’s field seeking its first state title in program history. The other two have just one: El Dorado’s lone state title came in 1990 at the 5A level when the Wildcats finished 18-6; Iola’s lone title was more recent, coming in 2018 at the 4A Division-II level when the Mustangs finished 23-2.
• Tonganoxie potentially will have to get past teams the Chieftains already have played this season in fellow Frontier League members Paola and Ottawa. Tonganoxie defeated Paola, 5-1, in the teams’ only meeting, while Ottawa and Tonganoxie split two games earlier this season. THS has only lost once since falling to Ottawa, 12-4, on April 8. The Chieftains clinched the league title May 3 with a 3-0 shutout against the Cyclones.
Regardless how the tournament ends, it’s been an impressive spring in one of the best athletics years in school history.
In 2021-22, Tonganoxie teams made five state appearances, including the first state team title for THS boys wrestling, a third-place finish for boys soccer, a fourth-place finish for girls golf and a fifth-place finish for boys golf. THS girls golf and boys wrestling also had individual champions and THS boys and girls track could add to that number Friday and Saturday at the track and field championships in Wichita. Boys and girls cross country also had individual state medalists with fifth- and 10th-place finishes, respectively.
One might say anything here on out is just another layer of icing on a yummy cake, but the icing’s the best part, right?