As Heights fans pointed cameras at their regional baseball champion Falcons on Tuesday night, coach Jeff Topping instructed his players to hold up three fingers to signify a third consecutive state tournament berth.
Only this one won’t be like the other two. Like several Heights teams this school year, the recent Class 6A qualifiers are now 5A, and a new challenge awaits the Falcons after they defeated Newton 7-1 in the regional final at McAdams Park.
Heights (20-2) will travel to Manhattan next week for the 5A tournament at Kansas State’s Tointon Family Stadium.
“It’s going to be a little bit different,” said Heights senior Josh Farrington, who pitched a six-hitter in the championship game. “We’re used to playing the Blue Valley teams, the Kansas City-area teams.
“But it’s still great competition, and we’re still going to have to come out and play every inning.”
Topping challenges his players to “win every inning,” and Heights did it enough Tuesday to justify its No. 1 seed. The Falcons scored in all five innings of an 11-1 semifinal victory against Arkansas City, providing plenty of support for left-hander Keylan Killgore. Killgore finished the run-rule game with a four-hitter after surrendering a first-inning run.
Then after watching Newton rally past Kapaun Mount Carmel 4-3 in eight innings in the other semifinal, the Falcons quickly squelched the Railers’ momentum in the title game with seven runs and 11 hits in the first three innings.
“You’ve got to just tip your cap to Wichita Heights,” Newton coach Mark George said. “They’re very aggressive. They don’t miss mistakes. They took full advantage of the mistakes that we had.”
Heights left fielder Caleb Haight drove Newton starter Austin Gronau’s second pitch off the center-field wall for a double, setting the tone for the early onslaught. Curtis Whitten, Blake Day and Tremaine Simpson each had two hits in the first two innings, and Farrington helped himself with a two-run double in the second as Heights cashed in three times with two outs.
“Whenever our offense has it going, it always gives me confidence on the mound that they’ll do the job behind me, as well,” Farrington said. “It was good for me because Newton is a good team and one of the few teams that we’ve played that can hit everything.”
Farrington struck out three and walked five. But Newton (13-9) only made him pay once, as Jack Kingsley drew a one-out walk in the second and scored on Reagan McCloud’s bloop single to center.
“He was able to minimize his mistakes against us,” George said.
Newton loaded the bases in the seventh, but Whitten ended the game by tracking down Cole Sturgeon’s fly ball to right center.
While up to half of the 5A field could come from the Wichita area, Topping said this year's preparation for state will be different. Whatever classification, the Falcons still want to advance to the tournament’s final day.
“We’ve been having to work a little bit harder to go scout teams,” Topping said. “We’re going to go scout the next two days and find out what’s in 5A.”
Heights 7, Newton 1
|Newton||010||000||0||—||1 6 1|
|Heights||331||000||x||—||7 12 0|
W — Farrington. L — Gronau.
Heights 11, Ark City 1
|Ark City||100||00||—||1 4 0|
|Heights||233||12||—||11 11 1|
W — Killgore. L —Thompson.
Newton 4, Kapaun 3
|Kapaun||111||000||00||—||3 8 0|
|Newton||000||101||11||—||4 8 0|
W — Wright. L — Lienhard.