High School Sports

Maize fall short in 6A baseball title game

LAWRENCE — Since Maize already trailed by double digits, its three-run fifth inning Saturday against Blue Valley was basically meaningless.

Its significance was attached to two things: The Eagles proved they had fight against a major deficit, and they showed that the game would have been much more interesting if not for an early defensive meltdown.

The three-run inning helped Maize's pride, but it was only a minor roadblock in Blue Valley's 11-3 win in the Class 6A baseball championship game at Hoglund Ballpark.

Blue Valley won its second state title in three seasons and finished off a dominating weekend run that saw the Tigers outscore their three tournament opponents 29-5.

"We thought we were setting up good going into the championship game and we kind of fell apart," Maize senior second baseman Blake Sturgeon said. "I guess we got too comfortable."

Both teams were entering with momentum — Blue Valley beat Shawnee Mission Northwest 12-2 in the semifinals in the first game of the day. Maize had an emotional 1-0, eight-inning win over Lawrence Free State in the semis, with the winning run scoring on a Ross Cunningham sacrifice fly.

Only Blue Valley carried the emotional surge past the first inning of the championship game, though.

Maize pitcher Dillon Ayres issued a four-pitch walk to the game's second batter, Brian Peck. On a single by Taylor Drake, right fielder Conner Knight threw to the wrong cutoff man, allowing Drake to advance to second.

It got worse for the Eagles.

The next hitter, Landon Lucansky, hit a routine grounder to shortstop Shaun Reid, who couldn't handle what should have been an RBI groundout. Even though no unearned runs scored, it extended the inning and forced Ayres to labor through 21 pitches.

Ayres never recovered, and it took a while for Maize's collective psyche to bounce back, too.

"Real surprising just because of how solid we were (defensively) the game before," Maize coach Rocky Helm said. "Anytime you spot teams — especially good teams — extra outs, sooner or later you're going to get yourself in trouble."

Blue Valley added four unearned runs against Ayres in the second. Even after an error and a hit batter, Maize had a chance to escape the inning with no damage when Peck hit what looked to be a routine double play ball to Sturgeon.

But Sturgeon booted the ball when he started to make the turn toward second base. He recovered in time to get the force out, but the flip was fumbled as a run scored. Taylor Drake followed with a three-run double.

"It was actually really big," Blue Valley senior Ryne Stanek said of the Tigers' quick start. "We played them earlier in the year and they showed up early, put up five in the first inning and we were dead. We come out here and put up five in the first two innings and they were absolutely dead. We crushed them after that."

Ayres was removed after allowing a leadoff, opposite-field home run to Brent Mason in the fifth. Conner Knight couldn't slow the Tigers, either, and Maize trailed 10-0 before putting up a fight.

The Eagles' three-run fifth was started on a pinch-hit single by Jacob Sweat. He scored on a double by Thomas Clay, and two batters later Shaun Reid plated Clay and Sturgeon with a double to the left-field corner.

Maize missed a chance to add on by leaving a runner at third base. The Eagles threatened in the sixth and seventh innings but could do no further damage.

"That's kind of been our team all year," Helm said. "They've always fought until the very end and the motto has been it's not over until it's over. I tried to get everyone a chance to get in the game, and every one of them competes. That's just how they've been all year long."

Championship

Blue Valley (20-5) 140 230 1 — 11 10 2 Maize (22-3) 000 030 0 — 3 9 3

W—Chesley. L—Ayres.

SM Northwest 9, Free State 1

Third Place

Lawrence Free State (19-5) 000 010 0 — 1 4 2 SM Northwest (20-4) 001 035 x — 9 10 1

W—Mansker. L—Wagner.

Blue Valley 12, SM Northwest 2

Semifinal

Blue Valley001 611 3 — 12 12 2 SM Northwest101 000 0 — 2 4 5

W—Abenoka. L—Thompson. HR—Blue Valley, Disney.

Maize 1, Free State 0

Semifinal

Lawrence Free State000 000 00 — 0 6 1 Maize000 000 01 — 1 5 0

W—Knight. L—Toalson.

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