The steamroller that had been Udall’s baseball team in the regular season’s final month stalled at times in the South Central Border League championship game Thursday against Flinthills.
Sophomore ace Alex Perez allowed a couple early runs. The Eagles’ offense generated nothing in the first four innings. And a two-run lead slipped away late in the game.
But after light-hitting senior Dayton June plugged the gap with a game-winning, walk-off hit in Udall’s 5-4 victory, Eagles coach Barney Rockey believed his 20-0 team got exactly what it needed heading into Class 2-1A regional play this week.
“It was perfect for us because we haven’t been challenged in the last three weeks,” Rockey said. “The best thing was when we got behind, they didn’t get down on each other. It was, ‘OK, we can do this.’”
Udall, one of two unbeaten teams in 2-1A along with Valley Falls, will host the regional semifinals and championship on Tuesday. The top-seeded Eagles have a first-round bye and will play the winner of Monday’s game between Central-Burden and Medicine Lodge.
Prior to the dramatic duel with Flinthills, Udall had outscored opponents 105-6 in six games since its other close call, a 13-12 victory over Sedan on April 28. The Eagles, No. 2 in the 2-1A coaches rankings behind Pittsburg Colgan, had scored at least eight runs in each of their first 19 games.
“We knew that we were going to be good this season,” said Rockey, who returned eight starters from his roster of 13 players. “Our defense is outstanding, and one of the best things about our batters, one through nine, is you can’t really walk somebody to get to someone else.”
Perez has been the cornerstone of Udall’s pitching staff, posting a 10-0 record with one save in 12 appearances. As a leadoff hitter, he’s one of four Eagles starters who have batted above .500 with at least 21 RBIs.
Despite a strong reliance on underclassmen – the Eagles have just three seniors – many contributed to a 16-5 season a year ago that ended with a regional loss to Medicine Lodge. Rockey believes that defeat can serve his current team well as it tries to advance to the 2-1A tournament May 29-30 in Great Bend.
“We thought we were going to state with that team,” Rockey said. “We just didn’t hit it when we needed to.
“They’re taking it seriously this year. We’re practicing Sunday and Monday, and we’ll get after it.”
Jones, a senior right-hander who has signed with WSU, hasn’t allowed an earned run in 39 innings. Musgrave, a lefty who pitched for the Shockers from 2005-08, posted an 0.47 ERA in 60 innings during his senior season at Santa Fe Trail.
Musgrave’s mark has been listed by the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame – the official source of the state’s high school sports records – as the ERA record for 10 years. Jones is also ahead of former Blue Valley West pitcher Collin Wiles, a Texas Rangers farmhand who posted a 0.10 ERA in 49 1/3 innings in 2012.
Jones has a 6-0 record with two saves in nine appearances for Andale (17-3), which will play in the Class 4A regional on Monday at Ulysses. He has allowed one unearned run and 13 hits this season with 62 strikeouts and five walks.
Ware, a junior, enters the postseason batting .729 for Sedgwick, which will play in the 3A regional Tuesday at Marion. Workman owns the state record after batting .710 (44 for 62) for Silver Lake in 2004.
Sedgwick (17-1) had its final two regular-season games with Independent canceled by rain. But Ware made the best of his most recent opportunity, going 7 for 7 in the Cardinals’ doubleheader sweep May 9 at Hoisington.
In the opener, Ware went 4 for 4 with a triple, two doubles and two RBIs. He followed that with an RBI triple, RBI double and a two-run homer that broke a 10-10 tie in the seventh inning of the nightcap, boosting Sedgwick to a 13-10 victory.
Ware is 35 for 48 this season with six homers and 32 RBIs.