As the Wichita Independent baseball team posed for pictures with the 3A championship trophy on Friday at Tointon Family Stadium, coaches urged everyone with a camera to snap all the images they desired.
The Panthers were in no rush. They were willing to point their index fingers in the air and commemorate this achievement for as long as their friends and family needed them to. After all, you only get to celebrate your school’s first team championship once.
“We had nine seniors on this field and a lot of quality kids,” Independent coach Jamie Fowler said. “It’s been a long journey with these guys. We spent so much time you spend with them in school, developing them in summer ball and in practice. They put in four years of work. To end it this way is pretty sweet.”
The Panthers won the 3A tournament in style, defeating Galena 2-1 in the quarterfinals, Silver Lake 3-2 in the semifinals and then Marion 8-0 in the title game.
Their trophy ceremony capped a stellar season. Independent finished 25-1 and flexed its muscles when things mattered most. Though its first two games at the 3A tournament were nail-biters, they hit another gear Friday night and routed Marion.
“We knew we were all due to go off at some point,” Independent pitcher Tanner Smith said. “We were saying before the game, ‘This is the game it is going to happen.’ Then it did. We hit the ball hard.”
Smith led the Panthers to victory by throwing a two-hitter in the title game. He had a no-hitter going through four innings, but Corbin Wheeler ended that run with a single to lead off the fifth.
In most settings that might have left him with some regrets. Not here.
“We just won a state championship,” Smith said. “It’s not disappointing at all.”
He received plenty of run support. Independent scored five runs in the first inning behind hits from Garnett Tate, Blaine Wood, Caden Springer, Jeb Sauer and Smith. Smith had a double and Wood had a triple.
It was all Panthers from there. Marion cycled through three pitchers but Independent amassed nine hits against them, adding a run in the fourth and two more in the sixth.
Marion finished the season 23-2.
The difference in the final was pitching. Independent had three pitchers it felt confident in ready to go for the team’s third game in two days. Marion did not.
The Panthers allowed a total of three runs on its march to a championship.
“We have tremendous pitching depth,” Fowler said. “We have two great throwers we didn’t even use. Between our pitching depth and how we play defense, that said it all.”
Independent was the team to beat in Manhattan, entering the 3A tournament as its No. 1 seed. And it played up to expectations.
“We put everything together,” Caden Springer said. “We showed how we can play and how we can hit. It was awesome.”
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W: Smith. L: Pedersen.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett