LAWRENCE — It was as if the ball was hit too hard to field. As if the pitches came in too hard and too fast to hit. As if the other team was defenseless against what it had to have known was coming.
And now, after demolishing Leavenworth 10-0 in the quarterfinals of the Class 6A baseball tournament on Friday, it is as if the Maize baseball team is facing an entirely different opponent than the team in the opposite uniform.
So throw out whatever cliche you want to describe this team, because the Eagles appear to be playing against destiny.
"I think we've done a pretty good job of leaving the talk of what might happen to other people," Maize starting pitcher Gage Byers said. "We feel like that takes us off of our path."
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Maize (23-0) has Shawnee Mission East in its path in one of today's semifinals. Win there and the Eagles get a shot at their first state title since 2005. The Eagles lost to Blue Valley in last year's final.
"We remember being here last year and coming up short," Byers said. "That's something that kind of goes unsaid, that we didn't get it done."
Byers was steady but not spectacular in picking up the win over Leavenworth, going all five innings of the run-rule victory while giving up three hits and striking out six. Byers gave up two hits in the fifth, the only time Leavenworth managed to get more than one runner on the basepaths.
"Gage has been our No. 1 guy all year long, and I thought he did a good job today but he wasn't as sharp as he's been," Maize coach Rocky Helm said. "But after a little bit of a rough start, he dug in and started to pitch."
After a two-hour rain delay, Byers struggled with a 26-pitch first inning, but settled down. Maize's Gabe Cook singled in the second inning to score Conner Knight and pinch-runner Jeremy Morgan. Andrew Shaw and Ryan McBroom added RBI singles and both scored on a throwing error for a 6-0 lead.
In the third, Morgan scored on a passed ball and Shaw's triple scored Cook. Maize added another run on an error in the third and scored again on an error in the fourth for the final margin.
"We go in with the same mindset every game, but with this tournament we've been saying 'three in, three out,' " Cook said, referring to the number of games Maize must win to become state champions. "And, obviously, we've come to that second step."
SM East 2, Wichita Northwest 0 — Shawnee Mission East's Brennan Burns shut out the Grizzlies by mixing a fastball up and in and a changeup away.
"We've got, like, 13 of our 21 outs are pop-ups or fly balls," Northwest coach Travis Stockam said. "I feel like we've seen better pitchers, but we just couldn't adjust for some reason... we're telling them what (Burns) is throwing, the same two pitches all game, and they need to hit groundballs if we want to win, but I guess what the coach says doesn't matter."
The Lancers scored in the first inning on an RBI double from Will Severns off Northwest's Mitchell McIntyre that scored Anthony Scott. SM East added another run in the sixth after Billy Kirkpatrick doubled, moved to third on a misplayed ball and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Dylan Becker.
Northwest's best chance to score came in the second inning. Runners were at first and third with one out and then loaded with two outs, but Burns struck out Jacob Jones to end the threat.
McIntyre was the losing pitcher, going five innings while giving up six hits and two earned runs with two strikeouts.
BV West 11, Campus 3 — Blue Valley West broke open a 5-2 game in the seventh with a three-run double from Kyle Schlatter that sparked the rout. It was the first trip to state for the Colts since they went as a Class 5A team in 2004.
"We felt like we were definitely in the game until the seventh," Campus coach Bryan Clasen said. "But once they got those runs our heads kind of got down and it escalated from there."
Leavenworth (13-10) 000 00 — 0 3 3 Maize (23-0) 063 1x — 10 10 0
SM East (15-8) 100 001 0 — 2 8 0 Wichita Northwest (17-6) 000 000 0 — 0 4 1
BV West (14-9) 021 101 6 — 11 9 2 Campus (18-5) 110 000 1 — 3 7 4
Lawrence (14-9) 001 000 1 — 2 11 1 SM West (17-6) 100 000 0 — 1 7 2