The Liberal BeeJays weren’t crying on Friday because they lost. They were crying because of a loss, with that painful distinction setting in a few minutes after a 4-1 defeat against Haysville.
Liberal handled the immediate aftermath of a NBC World Series semifinal loss stoically, valiantly shaking hands with the Aviators then listening intently to the postgame message from manager Adam Anderson down the third-base line at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The emotions hit as Liberal was named, as a group, the tournament’s most inspirational players. They wept as general manager Mike Carlile lauded the team for its courage following the death of 9-year-old bat boy Kaiser Carlile last weekend.
Kaiser was inadvertently struck in the head by the backswing of a Liberal player near the on-deck circle last Saturday, and he died Sunday. Kaiser’s father, Chad, is Mike Carlile’s cousin.
The players, who opted to continue playing following Saturday’s accident, put their arms around one another and hugged while they were acknowledged by fans, tournament officials and the Aviators.
The positivity comes from “the way the kids – the men – handled themselves,” Anderson said. “The way the organization handled itself and the way the baseball community rallied around as and supported us when we really needed it.”
Haysville advances to Saturday’s championship game against Seattle needing to defeat the undefeated Studs twice to win its first NBC championship in the Aviators’ third season.
Liberal finishes third, an improbable run made more unlikely by the tragedy endured a week ago. The BeeJays advanced past the first week and played a tournament-record 11 games, reaching the semifinals after a ninth-inning grand slam allowed them to defeat El Dorado late Thursday evening.
Liberal seemed, at times, set up for another inspired comeback against Haysville. Starting pitcher Matt Michalski wasn’t sharp, but he frequently eluded trouble. The BeeJays escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third inning and got out of a potentially difficult sixth with a double play.
After Haysville took a 2-1 lead in the sixth, the inning ended when catcher Brady Cox missed a popup but raced back home to tag out Gavin Gregory.
“That was a spectacular play on his part,” Liberal outfielder Gavin Wehby said. “I don’t know if I could have done that if I was catching.”
The chances of a rally diminished on a similarly confounding inside-the-park home run by Haysville second baseman Tyler Tokunaga.
The best outcome for Tokunaga seemed to be an infield single as his hit bounded toward third baseman Cale O’Donnell. After a difficult hop helped the ball skip into left field, a double seemed like the best-case scenario, and nothing better than a triple as it eluded Wehby.
But Tokunaga was waived home and slid head-first under Cox’s tag for a two-run homer that put Haysville ahead 4-1 and limited the likelihood for Liberal dramatics.
“That guy can fly,” Haysville outfielder Gavin Gregory said. “That guy all year has been our sparkplug. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
Liberal was retired in order in the ninth, missing its storybook ending. The story, though will never be the BeeJays’ third-place finish or their wins in the face of tragedy.
The Bee Jays’ story is the bond of a team and the support received from those closest to them, and many they’ve never met.
“We’re still trying to process it,” Wehby said. “I can’t say enough about how comforting it is to know that so many look to us and see inspiration. Kaiser – he did die, but he still lives on through the BeeJays and every kid who has a dream to play baseball, and even us who are still playing and living out his dream.”
1 6 2
4 13 0
W — Berlin. L — Michalski. S — Beattie. HR — Liberal, O’Donnell; Haysville, Tokunga.
Liberal batting—Wehby 0-4, Miller 0-4, Williams 1-4, Brooks 0-4, Cox 1-4, O’Donnell 2-4, Green 0-2, Hubbard 1-3, Sherley 1-3.
Haysville batting—Maack 1-3, Tokunaga 3-5, Holst 2-4, Wasinger 0-2, Serchay 1-3, Stoltzfus 0-3, Karbowski 1-2, Lamoreux 0-4, Duplechin 1-4, Coe 2-3, Gregory 2-4.
Liberal pitching—Michalski 5 1/3 IP-2 ER, Hernandez 2 1/3-2, Busto 1/3-0.
Haysville pitching—Boisclair 2-1, Berlin 4-0, Beattle 3-0.
NBC World Series
Championship: Haysville Aviators vs. Seattle Studs
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, with second game to follow if needed
Where: Lawrence-Dumont Stadium