Jake Taylor was barely to first base when he gave Maize its first state baseball title since 2011. He didn’t have much time to savor the moment.
That’s what the rest of his life is for.
Taylor’s two-out line drive, destined to end the game one way or another, nicked off the glove of the St. Thomas Aquinas shortstop and into left field, scoring two runs and giving Maize a 5-4 win and the Class 5A championship at Eck Stadium. Maize trailed 4-0 entering the sixth inning but pulled off two unlikely rallies.
Taylor was down in the count one ball, two strikes and fouled off the previous pitch from Will Swanson, who was a strike away from wrapping up Aquinas’ second straight title.
“Right there I’m just hoping he doesn’t catch it, honestly,” Taylor said. “I’m hoping we get a win right there, hoping it’s just a little bit out of his (range).”
The play, in fact, was so precise that it was difficult for any of the principals to describe it clearly. Chandler Kelley was on second base, just a few feet from Aquinas shortstop Cam McMillan, and seemingly had a perfect vantage point.
But with two outs, Kelley was running on contact and didn’t stop to watch. The ball skipped into left field, not playable for Grant Cowley, and Kelley scored after Jonathon McIntyre trotted home from third base.
“All I knew, in my mind I was like, we were winning that game,” Kelley said. “When it happened, I don’t know. I can’t believe it, it’s just too good to be true. It’s a dream come true right now, that’s all I’m going to say.”
Maize was put through emotional extremes in the seventh. The Eagles loaded the bases with no outs on an error and bunt singles by Mason Hartman and Kelley. On Swanson’s first pitch to Dawson Sramek, Swanson fielded a grounder and threw home to start a double play, leaving runners on second and third with two outs.
Taylor took strike one, then ball one, before a foul ball put him behind in the count. Then Taylor, a left-handed batter, produced a liner that was at or slightly above the top of McMillan’s head. He jumped slightly and the ball tipped his glove as he was coming down.
“I’m still trying to figure out everything that happened, it happened so fast,” Maize coach Rocky Helm said. “I felt really good, we tried to do a little small ball and loaded (the bases) up. JT did a great job getting a good pitch he could handle. I was hoping it would get over the shortstop’s head, and I didn’t know what was happening until Chandler scored.”
Maize was shut out through five innings by Nathan Mark, who threw 53 pitches before the sixth. He walked the first two batters and allowed an infield single before a run-scoring error brought on his exit. Another error allowed Maize’s third run to score in the sixth.
Aquinas missed a chance for insurance when a runner tagging from third at the end of the sixth left too early and was called out on appeal, nullifying an important run. The important runs – the serendipitous runs, perhaps – were saved for the bottom of the seventh, not long after Maize faced a seemingly hopeless predicament.
“I think (the double play) shocked us, really,” Short said. “It kind of took us out of it. But we knew we still had a chance.”
Ebright replaced three seniors early in Friday’s Class 5A third-place game at Eck Stadium. Carroll led at the time but lost 10-3 to Salina South, hours after Carroll fell in the semifinals against St. Thomas Aquinas.
Carroll didn’t exude much energy in playing almost immediately after a difficult loss, which itself came less than 24 hours after an emotional first-round victory. But Ebright wanted younger players to glimpse the demands of the state tournament.
“I wanted to give our young guys an opportunity to play out here,” Ebright said. “Not just to play out here, because I expect us to be back here next year and I wanted those guys to get on the field and compete. They obviously see that they’ve got to get better if we want to win this thing.”
After sending seven batters to the plate and scoring two runs in the first inning of the third-place game, Carroll didn’t score again until the fifth. By then, Salina South had two multi-run innings and was one inning away from its third.
Salina South had six infield hits, frequently testing an inconsistent Carroll defense. The Golden Eagles made three errors in their finale and eight for the tournament, often compounding dangerous situations.
Salina South scored in each of the three innings in which Carroll made an error, and Ebright said it was an adjustment playing on Wichita State’s field-turf surface.
“I think we played pretty tight defensively,” Ebright said. “That cost us. I guess we need to get a turf field and play on it every day.”
Carroll advanced to Saturday’s semifinals with a 5-4, eight-inning win over Blue Valley Southwest, when Brock Hipp scored from third while the BV Southwest first baseman turned to argue a call.
Carroll never captured momentum from that win. In the semifinals, Aquinas scored the first three runs and never trailed, even though Carroll was often a hit away from a significant breakthrough.
Adam Theis had an RBI single in the inning and Carroll also scored on a passed ball, but they left runners at second and third and missed later chances, too, while Aquinas extended the lead with a run in the fifth inning and two in the sixth.
“We got guys into scoring position and couldn’t drive them in,” Ebright said. “The middle of our lineup wasn’t able to come through. We gave ourselves opportunities. Aquinas is a good club – we made a couple errors, and you can’t do that against good teams.
“It was a tough loss. What do you say?”
Carroll appeared deflated by the loss, even though it scored twice to take a first-inning lead against Salina South. Seniors Justin Tangney, Brayden Whitchurch and Theis were all removed while in the field, allowing them to embrace their teammates on the way to the dugout.
Carroll finished 22-3 but exited with losses in which they uncharacteristically played poor defense and couldn’t gain much traction on the mound. Neither Saturday starter, Jack Ebright or Blake Freeman, made it out of the fourth inning.
“In clutch situations, we put ourselves in position to win the (Aquinas) game, to compete for the game,” Ebright said. “We just didn’t execute.”
|S. South||102||412||0||—||10 14 0|
|Carroll||200||010||0||—||3 9 3|
W: Sullivan. L: Ebright.
|S. South||100||000||0||—||1 5 0|
|Maize||001||032||x||—||6 9 1|
W: Taylor. L: Humm.
|Aquinas||201||012||0||—||6 12 0|
|Carroll||002||000||0||—||2 6 2|
W: Rost. L: Freeman.