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Eagles win wild one Friday

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Hayden Hutchison slammed his bat on the ground in frustration after he popped up in an early at-bat. Several Hays Senior Legion players tossed helmets after making outs. The Eagles fell down 7-1 to Pittsburg entering the top of the seventh in the Class AAA state tournament winner's bracket championship game.

"You felt really discouraged, and you kind of felt like maybe there wasn't any hope anymore," coach Brad Kelly said.

However, the Eagles scored three runs in the seventh and six in the eighth. After Pittsburg took a two-run lead, the Eagles were down to their last out twice and last strike once, but tied the game at 12 on singles from Dan Bittel and Hutchison.

Then Hays scored six runs in the 10th inning and delivered a crazy, entertaining 18-12 victory that lasted 3 hours and 35 minutes Friday at Larks Park. The contest featured 39 hits, including 23 from Hays.

"We just had so much fight in us," Hutchison said. "We were up against the ropes. We went down swinging literally, and we had come back on top. It felt great. I had goose bumps all throughout the last inning. It was a great team win. Can't thank my teammates enough."

The teams combined for seven pitchers, five from Pittsburg (19-12-1). Hutchison (2-0) earned the win with 6.1 relief innings.

"It was just an incredible win," Hutchison said. "One of the best wins I have ever been a part of -- no, the best win."

Hays, 27-17 and 3-0 at state, will play in the championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday. If the Eagles lose, they can play another game Sunday in the double-elimination tournament. A win in either contest gives the Eagles its second straight state title. Hays has scored 46 runs at state.

"We've had comeback wins before," Kelly said. "We had comeback wins last year. The scenario of this game -- what you were playing for -- it makes it really the biggest win of my career as well. The state championship game is going to stick out as well .... but you never had the ups and downs that you had in this one."

The game was reminiscent of a 2008 state tournament game between Hays and Pittsburg, in Pittsburg.

In that contest, Hays led by 10 runs early, but Pittsburg came back to win 23-16. Pittsburg coach Mike Watt, who has coached Post 64 since 1985, remembered the '08 contest. He called Friday's game "up there toward the top" of wildest games he had seen.

"Just a very frustrating game," Watt said. "We were up 7-1, and feel like we were playing very good baseball, and then just kind of the wheels fell off. Give Hays credit, they had a lot of heart and kept fighting and kept fighting. They have got a nice team."

Before the tournament, Hays and Pittsburg -- which met in the state championship last year -- were expected to be the top two squads.

Eagle starter Clayton Basgall struggled early on and was charged with five runs, all in the fourth inning. Kelly planned to not use Hutchison, Hays High School's ace who collected a 0.57 earned-run average in the spring. Hutchison, a Neosho (Kan.) Community College signee, had pitched just 10 innings all summer. However, when assistant coach Andy Lewton walked out to talk to Basgall, Hutchison motioned to Kelly that he could throw.

At that point, Kelly thought Hays would have to fight through the loser's bracket and play three games to win a title. Kelly was OK with Hutchison pitching so he could save arms.

"We don't want to hurt his arm before he goes off to college," Kelly said. "He wasn't really all that interested in pitching this summer, which I totally get, and I totally understand. That's just the competitor that Hutch is, though, that he would want the ball."

Hutchison eventually allowed two runs in the fifth and five in the eighth, but threw more than 90 pitches and saved the bullpen. Kelly has Marcus Altman, Brady Bieker and Cam Klaus rested for Saturday.

"During the last couple of innings, I was just pitching off of pure adrenaline," Hutchison said. "I could probably go another whole game right now. Coming into that situation, I just felt perfectly ready for it."

Offensively, Hays struggled until the seventh. Catcher Jake Sedbrook, the No. 8 batter, had just one hit in the first two games, the lone Eagle who started the first two contests who had fewer than four hits. On Friday, Sedbrook reached base all six times and had four hits.

Sedbrook led off the inning with a single. He later scored on a hit from Basgall. Layne Downing cut the deficit to 7-4 with a two-run double down the right field line, a hit that Hutchison called the game's turning point.

In the eighth, Hays scored six runs after Kade Parker opened with a walk and Sedbrook followed with a single. Kyler Niernberger followed with a bunt. Pittsburg starter Luke Marquardt tried to throw home to catch Parker, but made a wild throw. The next five batters reached base, including a two-run triple by Hutchison and another double by Downing.

"Some of our 1-2-3-4 guys, we really didn't get much going at the beginning of the game," Hutchison said. "It was crucial that we had our 6-7, lower in the lineup pick us up. Once they sparked us, we jumped in."

Pittsburg led 12-10 after a five-run eighth inning, but then Hays tied the game in the ninth on a leadoff hit by Sedbrook and two-out, run-scoring singles by Bittel and Hutchison. Hutchison's hit came on a 1-2 count.

"He hit a pitch that was up in the zone, and it wasn't a great pitch, but he went up and got it," Watt said. "We were hoping that he would chase, and he just caught up with it."

In the tenth, Hays scored six runs, but the inning changed when Downing led off with a single. Downing was picked off first base, but Pittsburg reliever Christian Cedeno committed a balk. Watt argued the call.

"That's a judgment call," Watt said. "He said that his front foot broke the plane of the rubber, and if his front foot broke the plane, he has to go to the plate. It's an automatic balk. Of course, we don't have a great angle."

In the bottom of the tenth, Hutchison returned some normalcy to the game when he ended the contest with a 1-2-3 inning. Hutchison delivered a big fist pump - "a fist pump of assurance, he said" - when second base Kyler Niernberger caught a fly ball for the final out.

"You play a three-hour game like that, just fighting and fighting and scratching and clawing, to come out on top, it felt great," he said.