Trinity Academy advances to state baseball tournament
In the top of the first inning, Trinity went down.
Clearwater's Denton Demel roped a pitch to left-center field that sent Trinity Academy outfielders Mason Matney and Reese Bayliff running. As the ball landed, Matney and Bayliff couldn't communicate in time and collided at top speed. The ball dropped, Bayliff was down on the turf and a run scored.
Trinity High baseball coach Bret Lentz ran to the outfield to check on his players. He was hoping he wouldn't hear bad news. He didn't.
"Honestly, when I got out there, he was just furious," Lentz said. "There was no, 'Oh, I'm hurt.' There was none of that. He was mad. There was just something in his eyes that you could tell maybe he needed that."
A few minutes later in the bottom half of the first, Bayliff was at the plate and slapped a two-out opposite-field double that served as the catalyst for the rest of the Knights' regional tournament.
Trinity scored in that inning and went on to beat Clearwater 6-3 in the regional semifinals and edged Collegiate 2-1 to advance to the Class 4A-Division II state tournament for the first time in the Trinity seniors' careers.
"We were the favorite, but we like the underdog mentality," Bayliff said. "We know we have a target on our back. We are the Christian private school."
In the past two seasons, Trinity has gone 28-16. The Knights have entered the regional tournament as the favorite or second-favorite in each season but have failed to get through. This year, Trinity came into the regional tournament with an 15-2 record.
There is something different about this year's group, Lentz said. They are ready.
"A few years ago, they weren't ready mentally," he said. "Talent-wise, they were there. But they have grown and continue to grow and handle adversity."
Trinity's lead was up to 5-1 in the semifinal, and just as Clearwater started to claw back — getting to within two runs — the Knights slammed the door again.
Senior Andrew Dettwiler sent a ball to the right-field corner for an RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth that seemed to seal it.
Dettwiler said getting an opportunity at state is indescribable.
"This team wants it," he said. "I don't know if words can explain that much passion."
Going three years without legit postseason baseball has been brutal for the Trinity seniors.
Two years ago, it was Collegiate. Trinity beat Iola 8-2 to advance to the regional final. In that final, the Knights gave up three runs to break the tie in the top of the seventh and lost 10-7.
Last year, it was Clearwater. Trinity beat Collegiate 3-0, and just like the year before, the Knights lost it at the end. They were down 8-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh. They scored five, but Bayliff flied out to end the game and the season.
"It's definitely something that drives us," Bayliff said.
This year, it almost happened again. Collegiate loaded the bases on Dettwiler in the bottom of the seventh down 8-6. Riley Dick, one of Collegiate's top players, came to the plate. But Dettwiler got him to ground out to Caleb Kice at second to clinch the state berth.
There is something different about this year's group, Bayliff said. The senior leadership is apparent. The talent is there. The experience is certainly there, too.
But maybe above all, the passion is there, Lentz said.
"This is their sport," he said. "The seniors, baseball is their sport. Some of them play football, but they are baseball players. Each year, they have gotten a little bit closer, and they know that this is their shot, and they want to know that they didn't leave anything behind."
Trinity will start its state-title run May 24 at Dean Evans Stadium in Salina.