Chanute has nothing to lose and a lot to prove.
The eighth-seeded Chanute Blue Comets are set to take on the top-seeded Clay Center Community/Wakefield Tigers today to kick off the KSHSAA Class 4A State Baseball Championships in Salina.
“As the eighth seed, I think we have the most relaxing position in the tournament,” senior Parker Manly said.
The Blue Comets enter the tournament with a record of 14-8 as the lowest regional seed to qualify. Head coach Ryan Ortiz attributed the not-so-sparkling record to a rocky start to the season.
“Early-on, we weren’t having a lot of quality at-bats,” he said. “We had a lot of early-count pop outs and we were being too eager. We knew we weren’t the best we could be, but we wanted to be the best we could be in May — that’s what happened and that’s why we’re here.”
Ortiz saw a notable flip in his squad’s approach after splitting a doubleheader with Paola in early April. The top half of the lineup started knocking extra-base hits and the bottom of the lineup went from seeing an average of two pitches per at-bat to becoming as deadly as anyone else.
“Making that guy work through the whole order is a big deal,” Ortiz said.
That guy for the Tigers will be LHP Mark Hoffman, a near-lock for an all-state selection who has struck out 57 batters and walked just four in 41 2-3 innings pitched. Teams have a batting average of just .142 against the ace.
“He’s gonna give us a lot of hittable pitches, so we need to take advantage of the ones he misses,” Ortiz said. “We’ve faced good pitching, so our kids won’t be intimidated.”
Ortiz noted the game will more than likely devolve into a pitching duel, as the Blue Comets will also be starting their ace. Junior RHP Rhett Smith (5-1) has amassed 52 strikeouts of his own this year and boasts an opposing batting average of .213.
“Since our Fort Scott game (to finish the regular season), he’s been dialed in. He’s got his pitches working to where we feel good about him,” Ortiz said.
Confidence will play a huge role in Smith’s success, though he can rest easy knowing the bullpen can also take care of business. Manly, a lefty, and junior RHP Brax Peter will be on standby to take over on the rubber.
“We’ve got nothing to lose. We’re gonna prove that we deserve to be there. Seedings don’t matter so anything can happen,” Smith said. “I’m gonna attack early and try to get out of there with the least amount of pitches I can.”
The offensive attack will need Manly and Smith, along with junior first baseman Lars Koester and junior outfielder Nathan Meisch to be swinging as solid as they have been over the last two weeks. The core quartet has sparked numerous rallies this season with extra-base hits, and turned long at-bats into walks and eventual stolen bases.
“If you can get a guy on second to start the day, that’s how you score runs quickly. We never really preach (hitting for extra bases), but we know what we’ve got,” Ortiz said.
The approach has been, and will remain simple in Salina — hunt and crush fastballs.
“Attacking fast balls and hitting it on a line,” Meisch said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”
Koester echoed the sentiment, noting he and his teammates are confident in the batters’ box.
“I can’t say we feel any pressure. We’ve put in the work since we were young, so we all should be ready to do this,” he said. “More than anything, we wanna have fun. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Many of the Blue Comets on this year’s squad spent years together in travel baseball, something that is quickly coming to an end with the graduation of Manly and senior catcher Bryan Jackett.
“It means a lot to me (to finish my career at the state tournament), I’ve been together with some of these guys for a decade-plus,” Manly said. “It’s just amazing to play with these guys one more time before I head off to college.”
Jackett also provides an important role that many would pass over, as he has the most state tournament experience on the squad through his time as a wrestler.
“I’m just keeping the guys calm and keeping them focused,” he said. “We’re playing the best ball we have all year, so I’m not nervous about it.”
Ortiz also noted junior Luke Noonan and freshman Kris Harding will need to continue contributing all over the field for the Blue Comets to be successful.
“No matter what, I want everyone to give their all,” senior Dax Axelson said. “We can’t let the setbacks affect us. We have to just keep pushing through and do what we do.”
No. 2 St. George-Rock Creek (21-1) kicks off the tournament by taking on No. 7 Paola (14-8) at 11 am, followed by a matchup between No. 3 McPherson (19-2) and No. 6 Larned/LaCrosse (14-7) at 1:15 pm.
Chanute then takes on Clay Center Community/Wakefield before No. 4 Fort Scott (16-6) and No. 5 Abilene (15-7) round out Thursday’s slate of games at 5:45 pm.
“If we play like we have been, we’re gonna compete,” Ortiz said. “We’re not gonna lay down for anybody.”
Friday’s semifinals matchups start at 11 am, the third place game is set for 3:30pm and the Class 4A state champion will be crowned at 5:45 pm.
The full Class 4A bracket can be found on the KSHSAA website.
Post a comment as anonymous
Watch this discussion.
Welcome to the discussion.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.