SALINA – It took longer – much longer – than Maize South had anticipated, but the Mavericks held on for a 7-5 victory Friday night over Ottawa in the Class 4-IA championship game.
Just to get to the final was an ordeal. The Mavericks (20-5) had to subdue a gritty Independence team for a 3-2 semifinal victory, pushing across a run in the eighth after Independence had tied the score in the seventh.
“Our kids have battled all year,” Mavericks coach Chad Christensen said. “Everybody’s good when you get to the state tournament. Our kids did a great job of battling back. It was a great team victory.”
Maize South’s victory wasn’t secured until freshman closer Cory Fayette retired Ottawa pitcher Brock Huddleston on a fly to right.
Fayette ran into trouble after a call at first went against Maize South on Blaine Ray’s infield hit. When Caleb Shaffer singled, Ray tried to score but was gunned down on a perfect throw from senior left fielder Brett Parke and perfect sweep tag by senior catcher Jordan Maxson.
Parke said things just fell right on that play.
“That ball came right through (third baseman Jack Wagner’s) hole, I thought he was going to get it,” Parke said. “I saw (Ray) round third and I thought I had a chance to throw him out. Jordan had a good pick and a good tag.
“I’ve been wanting this (state title) for a long time. Jordan and I talked about it when we were kids. Senior year, we finally got one.”
Christensen said: “Somebody has always come up big for us. Brett (Parke) in left field on this second out to home plate, throwing a strike to erase a run off the board was huge.”
Maxson said the Mavericks wanted to build on the feeling of the walkoff victory.
“We just wanted to take it from the first game and build on that momentum from the very beginning,” Maxson said. “We had a nail-biter at the first start, but then we got a good one here.”
Maize South started senior Bryce Sell on the mound in the championship. Sell, who had barely played to this point because of injury, walked four in Ottawa’s two-run first, then settled down and retired nine of the final 11 hitters he faced in four-plus innings of work.
“It was my first start, and my team came back and picked me up when I was doing badly, and we got through together,” Sell said. “We pick each other up.”
Augusta had a tenuous grasp on a 3-2 lead through much of the game, but a six-run sixth on just two hits helped it to a victory over Independence.
It wasn’t his preference of a way to end the season, but Orioles coach Doug Jefferson was satisfied enough to win the final game of the season.
“Things kind of fell into place, and something had to give,” he said. “Some things finally gave, and we finally got some breaks and made the most of it.”
Chance Whitehead gave the Orioles six innings, surrendering just two hits. But the victory was far from assured. The Bulldogs had at least one runner on in each of the first six innings, and scored both runs without benefit of a hit.
Still, Augusta overcame miscues and made the key plays in the field when it needed.
“Chance threw really well for us,” Jefferson said. “He gave us a chance, and we kind of capitalized there at the end on it.”
One time was in the fifth when center fielder Taite Saldana, who had dropped a fly ball in the second that led to the Bulldogs’ first run, atoned by making a diving catch of a blooper by Evan Sprague for the final out of the inning.
“That was big,” a beaming Saldana said afterward. “Even though the hits weren’t falling, we still found a way to win.”
Augusta had chances, but couldn’t quite muster the key hit, stranding 11 in the game after stranding nine in a semifinal loss to Ottawa.
“Aw, I didn’t want to know that number,” Jefferson said. “We just didn’t get that big hit to kind of open things up that we’ve been getting most of the season. It made things tougher for us, but the kids battled.”
Independence’s Calvin Edwards used off-speed pitches to halt the Orioles after taking over three batters into the game.
“We’re definitely a fastball-hitting team,” Jefferson said. “I was hoping we’d see at least one fastball pitcher up here, but the kids did a good job of adjusting. We didn’t strike out; we just didn’t hit the ball in the gaps like we usually do.”
Saldana, a senior, said it wasn’t what he preferred, but third – and a 19-6 record – will suffice.
“It wasn’t the way I wanted to go out, but third place at state – hey, I couldn’t ask for anything else,” he said.
W – Sell. L – Finch.