Sufferin’ southpaw

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The state tournament is not the time to test your ability against the relative unknown.

While the Hillsboro baseball team had faced an occasional left-handed hurler during the season, they certainly never faced one with the ability of Wichita Trinity’s Steve Hartmann.

With effective change of speeds and pinpoint accuracy, the Knight senior froze a hot-hitting Hillsboro team in the opening round of the Class 3A tournament and ignited his own team to a 7-2 victory.

In six innings of work, Hartmann allowed only one base hit-a single by Andy Brubacher to lead off the fifth inning-and struck out 10 Trojans to send Hillsboro to an early exit in this year’s tournament.

After Brubacher made it to second base on a ground out, the Trojans came as close as they would come to a scoring threat against Hartmann. But the lefty came back to strike out Ben Walker and Steven Chisholm to douse the potential rally.

“His off-speed pitches were so good, and he hit his spots,” coach Phil Oelke said. “I spoke with five coaches going into the game and all of them had said he didn’t throw overly hard, but because he had such great command of his pitches, he kept kids off balance and that’s what made him so solid.”

Without question, the fifth inning was a psychological turning point for Hillsboro.

In the top half of the inning, Trinity scored two huge runs against Trojan ace Jerod Metcalf in what had been tit-for-tat pitching duel to that point.

The Knights had previously touched Metcalf with a run in the second inning. With one out, David Kempin grounded a single to center and Rob Boyle followed with a single to right.

After Metcalf induced Brett Boyle to fly out for the second out of the inning, Josh Kinnevan ripped a base hit into right field that drove in Kempin. Metcalf then struck out the next hitter to limit the damage.

But that single run grew bigger and bigger as Hartmann maintained his effectiveness with each passing inning.

Then came the fifth inning.

Batting lead-off, Kinnevan set an ominous tone by slashing a ball into the gap in right center for a triple. After Metcalf struck out Lance Puhfal, Brian Guhl beat out a slow grounder to shortstop Dustin Jost as Kinnevan crossed the plate.

After Hartmann moved Guhl to second on a ground out, Kevin Deutsch delivered a single to right center that drove in Guhl for the second run of the inning and the third of the game for Trinity.

With the Trojans facing a 3-0 deficit against a tough pitcher, Brubacher’s lead-off single was the first chink in the Knights’ armor, and hope was reborn. But when Hartmann escaped the inning unscathed, Trinity’s otherwise modest lead suddenly seemed enormous.

Whatever faint hope the Trojans harbored for a late-game comeback was extinguished in the top of the sixth inning when the Knights broke the game open with four more runs.

Metcalf got the first out of the inning when Kris Jones made a running catch in center on a deep fly ball hit by Kempin. But after Rob Boyle and Brett Boyle hit consecutive singles to left, Oelke pulled Metcalf and brought in senior Steven Chisholm.

“Jerod was doing what he could,” Oelke said. “He wasn’t leaving the ball up necessarily, but we weren’t getting the pitch at the knees called for a strike, and that hurts us a little because he had to bring it up.”

Facing Kinnevan, Chisholm uncorked a wild pitch to advance the runners to third and second, then hit Kinnevan with a pitch to load the bases.

Scott Puhfal, pinch hitting for Lance Puhfal, then ripped a single over the head of Jared Fish in right field. Two runs scored on the hit and a third one came in on an errant throw from Brubacher into third base.

One out later, Hartmann blooped a single into center field, enabling Scott Puhfal to score the fourth run of the inning and the seventh of the game for Trinity.

Although the outcome seemed certain, Hillsboro did shake the shutout in the seventh inning. After Hartmann pitched the sixth, Trinity coach Dave Martin brought Kempin in to pitch the final inning.

Facing a different arm, the Trojan offense came to life. With one out, Brubacher walked and Jones followed with a double to right to put Trojans on second and third.

Brubacher then scored on a ground out by Walker, and Chisholm followed with a single to center to drive in Jones. But the game and the season ended for Hillsboro when Jost lofted a lazy fly to center for the final out.

“We really didn’t really play a bad game of baseball,” Oelke said. “We just didn’t hit it.”

The three hits allowed by the two Trinity pitchers was a season-low for Hillsboro, which had averaged just over 10 a game coming into the tournament. The top five hitters in the Trojan lineup combined for an 0-for-16 day with seven strikeouts.

Metcalf (6-5) absorbed the loss for the Trojans, finishing his stellar high school career with a 24-6 record. In his finale, the right-hander gave up five runs, all earned, in 51/3 innings. He allowed 12 hits while striking out three and walking no one.

Suffice it to say, the Trojans’ second trip to the state tournament was different from the first one in 2001, when they finished third. That year, Hillsboro and Wichita Collegiate were clearly the best two teams in the tournament, and the state title was essentially decided when those teams squared off in the semifinals.

This year, Oelke predicted the entire field would be tough, and his team would have to play its best just to compete.

His assessment proved accurate. A solid Wichita Trinity team went on to lose to No. 1 seeded Silver Lake, 2-1, in the semifinals, then lost to Thomas More Prep in the battle for third place, 7-0.

Baxter Springs, seeded second, went on to win the state title with a 3-2 win over Silver Lake.

For senior-laden Hillsboro (17-7), it was a disappointing ending to an otherwise successful season.

“We had a good season overall,” Oelke said. “We had some kids that I thought developed well from the first of the year. We had some kids that last year were average players, but this year really dominated.

“Those were things that were fun to see, and it says a lot about the character of these kids. They’re competitors.”

Trojan hitters set several program records this season, the most impressive being team home runs. Led by James Bina’s record 12 round-trippers, the 2003 team finished with 39-nearly doubling the previous record of 20 set last season.

But in the end, the baseball adage proved true once more: hitting makes the game exciting, but it’s pitching that wins championships.

STATE HS BASEBALL

Wichita Trinity 7, Hillsboro 2

Class 3A, 1st round, May 30 at Manhattan

W. Trinity 0 1 0 0 2 4 0-7 14 0

Hillsboro (17-7) 0 0 0 0 0 0 2-2 3 1

HHS pitching: Metcalf (L, 6-5) 5.1 innings, 26 batters, 3 strikeouts, 0 walks, 12 hits, 5 runs, 5 earned runs, 0 wild pitches, 0 hit batters; Chisholm 9 batters, 1 strikeout, 1 walk, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 earned runs, 1 wild pitch, 1 hit batters. Catcher: Bina.

HHS hitting: (ab-r-h-rbi) Jost 4-0-0-0, Hughbanks 3-0-0-0, Bina 3-0-0-0, Ratzlaff 3-0-0-0, Metcalf 3-0-0-0, Brubacher 2-1-1-0, Jones 2-1-1-0, Walker 3-0-0-1, Chisholm 3-0-1-1. Totals: 23-2-3-2. 2B: Jones.

More from article archives
Warriors overwhelmed by Cardinals in bi-district game
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK A 42-point loss became a clear indication to...
Read More