HHS wins thriller in Diamond Classic opener, now 2-0 in field
By NICK McQUEEN
By NICK McQUEEN
If Hays High School baseball coach Frank Leo were to imagine a perfect scenario with the game on the line, his team’s finish to Thursday’s Western Plains Diamond Classic opener against Wichita-Word of Life might have been it.
Hays High had been down, up, down again, then battled back to win in thrilling fashion at Indian Field. And it came with late-inning heroics from one of the team’s most consistent players — senior pitcher/first baseman/outfielder Kade Parker.
His walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the eighth inning scored sophomore Jared Haynes from second base, and the Indians defeated the Fire, 7-6, to kick off the 2014 tourney.
“Talk about ice in the veins, a guy that keeps calm, cool and collected,” Leo said of Parker, who also picked up the win in one inning of relief of senior starter Layne Downing. “That’s him. That’s Kade Parker. He knows how to handle situations.”
Parker connected on a 1-0 pitch with two outs against Word of Life reliever Derrick Begane, and found his favorite spot to spark the Indians’ celebration as Haynes crossed home plate.
“Saw a lot of spin on it,” Parker said of the pitch. “I hit a lot of balls to that gap — the six hole. Just kind of looking for that.”
It capped his 4 for 5 day, but more importantly punctuated what Leo thought was his young club’s grittiest win in 15 tries. Hays High won its seventh consecutive game and moved to 10-5. Word of Life, a non-KSHSAA school, dropped to 21-6.
“That’s a very good ball club. We know going in it was going to be a battle, and we couldn’t make mistakes, and had to take advantage of opportunities,” Leo said.
Not to mention, the Indians seemed down and out when the Fire’s Jazz Chisholm hit a one-out grand slam over the right field fence off Downing in the sixth inning, erasing Hays High’s 3-1 lead it had built off its own pair of homers.
“When the guy hits a grand slam, you talk about a moment of silence in the dugout,” Leo said. “It was like the game was over. But they regrouped. We talk about that a lot. You can’t let one play, one pitch make the ball game.”
It was seemingly Downing’s only bad pitch, and by far his worst inning. Other than the four-run sixth, he scattered six hits and struck out five in the no-decision.
“It goes down as my win, but should go to him,” Parker said of Downing. “He threw 110 pitches and kept us in this game.”
Downing’s two-run home run broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth after sophomore Marcus Altman had tied the game with his solo shot in the third. Both homers came against Word of Life starter Cristian Telemaco, a tall right-hander that entered the game with a 4-2 mark with four complete games and a 0.95 earned-run average.
“I like pitchers that really go right over the top,” Parker said. “After the first and second inning everyone started seeing it.”
After Chisholm’s slam in the sixth, Hays High responded with a one-out triple by Haynes off the right field fence. He scored on a passed ball and pulled Hays High to within 5-4 entering the seventh.
“It was key to get at least one back in that next inning. We had so many good things happen in that ball game,” Leo said. “This club is growing up. Where we were earlier in the year, we lost those close games like that. Now, we’re learning how to win them.”
But Downing was hurt again, this time on an error at shortstop, a runner that eventually scored.
“Layne is going to give us a chance to win each time he goes out. He goes out against their No. 1 guys,” Leo said. “He has to go against the best. He went against their best today. Take away the one pitch. Our guys just never gave up.”
Hays High found a way to manufacture in the seventh. Altman was hit by a pitch to open the inning, and Parker followed with a single. Sophomore Connor Rule walked to load the bases, but sophomore Dalton Stout grounded into a double play. Still one run scored, setting up a wild play to tie the game. With two outs and facing a 1-2 count, junior Trenton Henningsen lined one that looked to go past Word of Life first baseman Jack Halloran. Halloran, though, made a diving stop, then looked to have Henningsen beat to the bag. Halloran dove head first and Henningsen slid, but Halloran dropped the ball.
The umpires met briefly before agreeing with the call on the field of safe.
Meanwhile, Parker had scored the tying run from third.
“We tell our guys you have to go hard all the time,” Leo said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Anything is better than a strikeout.
“You put the ball into play, something is going to happen,” he added. “That’s a tremendous at-bat by Henningsen at that point in the game.”
Parker gave up one single to Word of Life in the eighth, but threw just 10 pitches, before he earned himself the victory with his game-winner.
“We knew it would be a good game,” Parker said. “We knew their schedule, who they’ve played, knew they were going to be a tough opponent. It’s a good win.”
Haynes finished 2 for 3 and scored twice, while Altman and Downing each were 1 for 4 with the homers. Sophomore Cole Schumacher, who struggled early, kept his nine-game hit streak going with his single in the eighth.
Hays High 16, Great Bend 6
In the nightcap of Day 1 of the tourney, Downing’s highlight reel double play in the first inning sparked a rout of Western Athletic Conference foe Great Bend for the Indians.
With a runner at first charged to Schumacher on a single, Downing made a diving grab a grounder to his right at shortstop, then popped off the ground to make the force at second and throw out the runner at first to end the inning.
“Layne’s play is one of those ESPN highlights,” Leo said. “That was big time right here. Big first inning. If they score a couple runs and get some momentum, but they score no runs, and we put up three.”
The Indian offense surged after that, leaving no doubt early. Hays High plated 10 runs through the first three innings then five in the sixth to end the game early.
The entire team got involved as Hays High put up 16 runs on 23 hits and one Great Bend error.
Altman had the hot bat in the nightcap. He finished 4 for 5, drove in three runs and connected on a solo home run in the fourth inning. He also had a home run earlier waived off because of a balk call. Three pitches later, he recorded an RBI single.
Schumacher did run into trouble in the fourth and sixth. He gave up two runs on three hits in the fourth, then four runs on four hits in the sixth inning. Outside of that, the right-hander allowed just one hit. He struck out seven to move to 3-0. Great Bend used four pitchers: Anson Hall, Brady Michel, Jack Westhoff, and Jaxs Hillman.
“They kept answering every time Great Bend did something,” Leo said of his club. “You never know. You have to keep getting runs when you can get runs.”
Parker finished 3 for 4, including a double and a triple, against Great Bend with two runs driven in, and Rule was 3 for 3 (two doubles) with three driven in. Schumacher extended his hit streak to 10 games by going 2 for 3. Stout and Downing each drove in a pair of runs as well.
Though not in true walk-off fashion, sophomore Brayden Delzeit ended the game in a pinch-hitting appearance in the sixth. His RBI single scored Stout to set the mercy rule.
Hays High is set to play Salina Central (5-8) at 7:15 p.m. today. Central defeated Word of Life, 11-6, in Friday’s other game. Also on the slate today: Great Bend vs. Goddard, Salina Central vs. Goddard and Great Bend vs. Word of Life. Games begin at 1 p.m.
Parker (4-1, 0.23 ERA) is set to start tonight’s game against Salina Central, with Altman (2-1, 3.73) slated for Saturday’s tourney finale against Goddard.