Legion goes 3-1 at Mac, but settles for third

Hillsboro American Legion Post 366 spent most of its Fourth of July weekend trying to declare a little independence of its own against a competitive field of five teams at the McPherson American Legion Tournament Friday and Saturday.

Playing in its second tournament of the season, Post 366 finished with a 3-1 record in the round-robin format played at the Light Capital Diamonds in McPherson. That mark tied the team with Nickerson and McPherson for the best record, but on the basis of tie-breaker rules, Post 366 finished third.

Friday, the Fourth, couldn’t have gone much better for Hillsboro. In a truly American setting-amateur baseball serenaded by an ongoing cacophony of firecrackers popping in the surrounding neighborhood-Hillsboro bats exploded for a couple of run-rule wins over Russell, 14-5, and McPherson, 12-4.

The win over McPherson was particularly sweet for Post 366 after losing to the AAA team two weeks earlier at Tabor Field.

Also, the win seemed to spoil what tournament organizers likely anticipated would be the championship matchup in the tournament-ending game on Saturday evening between their home team and Nickerson.

As it turned out, McPherson upset highly touted Nickerson, 1-0, in that final game to create the three-way tie and edge Hillsboro out of second place.

Hillsboro’s chance for the title came down to a high-noon showdown between 2-0 Hillsboro and 2-0 Nickerson on Saturday.

Hillsboro couldn’t have gotten itself into a better position for a strong finish. Not only had the team secured both wins on Friday, but it had gotten complete games from both of its starting pitchers-Caleb Marsh, with his first start-to-finish performance of the season against Russell, and then Dustin Jost, who went the distance against McPherson.

That left Hillsboro ace Jerod Metcalf rested and ready to throw against a tough Nickerson squad on Saturday-but it was the other team’s ace, Noah Krol, who stepped up big.

The Nickerson right-hander, an all-league and all-state selection this spring, all but silenced Hillsboro’s booming bats, finishing with a five-hit shutout and an 8-0 win in a game that ended by run rule after five innings.

“They’re too good of a team, they don’t make many mistakes- especially with Krol pitching,” Coach Brady Marsh said of Nickerson. “He’s the best we’ve seen this year.”

“Our guys were ready to play- but they were almost too ready, and didn’t play loose like they needed to,” Marsh added.

With its chance for a tournament title gone, Hillsboro almost squandered its chance to be runner-up when it came out flat against Circle in the final game of the weekend.

But a three-run rally in the top of the seventh-fueled by the bottom third of the lineup, no less-enabled Post 366 to escape with a 6-4 win over a Circle team it had fully expected to run-rule.

To the contrary, Hillsboro managed only one run through the first five innings against a mediocre Circle pitcher, and trailed 3-1 at that point.

After tying the game at 3-3 with two runs in the sixth, Hillsboro fell behind again when Circle’s No. 8 hitter blasted a Shawn Hughbanks pitch over the 365-foot sign in dead center field to put Post 366 in a 4-3 hole heading into its last at-bat.

“It would have been really bitter if we had lost this last one today,” Marsh said afterward. “I’m glad we came out and scored some runs in that last inning.”

Although he struggled on the mound against Nickerson, Metcalf finished the tournament as the team’s top offensive player, going 7-for-12 (.583) with six runs batted in and six runs scored.

The 3-1 mark at McPherson boosted Hillsboro’s record to 13-6 for the season.

Following is a game-by-game synopsis of Hillsboro’s play in the tournament.

Hillsboro 14, Russell 5

First game, Friday

An eight-run explosion in the third inning blew open an otherwise close game for Post 366.

Leading 5-2 heading into the inning, Hillsboro combined six hits with three walks and a hit batter to fuel the rally. Jerod Metcalf’s three-run double was the big blow.

Other key hits included a two-run single by Jared Fish, an RBI double by Graham Ratzlaff followed by a run-scoring triple by Steven Chisholm. Chisholm had started the inning with a lead-off bunt single.

Thirteen runs proved to be more than enough for Caleb Marsh, who pitched his first complete game of the season.

The right-hander allowed only two runs on two hits through the first four innings before loading the bases on a walk and two singles in the top of the fifth, and then surrendering three-run double with two outs.

Hillsboro 12, McPherson 4

Second game, Friday

Like any good fireworks show, Hillsboro saved its biggest bursts for late in the game on the way to the run-rule win.

McPherson drew first blood with a run in the first against Dustin Jost, but Hillsboro came right back with three runs in the bottom of the inning and never looked back. Bryan Swenson’s two-run, two-out single was the key hit.

Hillsboro added another run in the second for a 4-1 lead after three full innings. But McPherson, aided by a walk, a hit batter and a couple pitches that got past the catcher, roughed up Jost for three runs in the top of the fourth to tie the game. McPherson’s Tim George lit the fuse with a lead-off home run.

But in the end, it was Hillsboro that exploded brilliantly. Singles by Shawn Hughbanks, Jerod Metcalf and Jost, combined with two errors and two walks, resulted in five Hillsboro runs. The last two came on a bases-loaded ground out by Steven Chisholm.

Leading 9-5, Hillsboro ended the game in the bottom of the fifth by adding three more runs to push them to the eight-run rule. The game-ending run came on a two-out double to left field by Jost that scored Metcalf, who had singled in the previous at-bat.

Jost also earned the win on the mound, allowing only six hits in five innings while striking out two McPherson batters, walking one and hitting one.

Nickerson 8, Hillsboro 0

First game, Saturday

Hillsboro got a bitter taste of its run-rule medicine in this showdown between undefeated teams.

Nickerson got the only run it would need in the opening inning when Noah Krol led off with a double over left-fielder Bryan Swenson’s head in right center. Krol advanced to third on a ground out and then scored on a triple to right center by Heath Gerstner.

The rest of the game essentially was about Krol’s pitching. The right-hander kept Hillsboro hitters off stride with an excellent curveball that he mixed in with several other effective pitches.

Caleb Marsh led off the game with an infield single, but was wiped out when the next hitter, Jerod Metcalf, grounded into a double play.

Hillsboro didn’t get another hit until Marsh doubled to lead off the fourth. After Metcalf and Dustin Jost struck out, Graham Ratzlaff was hit by a pitch to give Hillsboro runners at first and second with one out.

Chisholm appeared to have loaded the bases when he took a pitch on the foot, but the home-plate umpire denied the play, and Krol struck out Chisholm to defuse a potential rally.

Shawn Hughbanks gave Hillsboro hope with a lead-off double in the fifth, but got caught in a rundown between second and third on a ground ball hit by Ben Walker.

Hillsboro mounted its last threat in the sixth when Marsh led off with his third hit of the game-a single to center. He stole second but was thrown out trying to take third on a ground ball by Jost.

Ratzlaff’s bloop single over the first-baseman’s head put runners at first and third. Ratzlaff stole second, but Krol struck out Chisholm to end the inning.

Meanwhile, after pecking away at Hillsboro starter Metcalf with single runs in first and second innings, Nickerson took control of the game with a three-run third.

Ironically, Metcalf appeared to be on his way to his first shutout inning after getting the first two hitters to ground out. But consecutive singles by Brandon Bauerle, Gerstner, Brandon Myers and Jarrett Bauerle accounted for the deciding runs and a 5-0 lead.

Nickerson picked up a sixth run in the fourth, and then ended the game with two outs in the bottom of the fifth with two more runs.

In the end, Metcalf allowed 12 hits in the loss. He walked four batters, but he also struck out four.

Hillsboro 6, Circle 4

Second game, Saturday

Post 366 woke up from the doldrums in the nick of time with a three-run rally in its last at-bat of the tournament.

Hillsboro entered the game apparently thinking Circle would roll over as the Thunderbirds did three weeks earlier in a 12-0 Hillsboro victory at the Augusta tournament.

It didn’t happen.

Steven Chisholm struggled for his third straight pitching start, giving up three runs in three innings, including four walks, a hit batter and a couple of costly wild pitches.

Even so, it was a serious lack of offense that put this game in jeopardy. Through the first three innings, eight of the nine batters who put the ball in play either flied out or popped out against the relatively slow tosses of starter Nick Norris.

Hillsboro finally scored when the 10th batter to put the ball in play, Dustin Jost, hit a fly ball that cleared the left-field fence for a home run.

That closed Circle’s lead to 3-1, where it stayed-thanks to the effective pitching of reliever Shawn Hughbanks-until Hillsboro scored twice in the sixth inning to tie the game.

With one out, Metcalf grounded a single down the third-base line. After Jost flied out to deep center, Graham Ratzlaff punched a single through second and third. Hughbanks then helped his own cause with a single that scored Metcalf.

Chisholm followed with a single to center that scored Ratzlaff, but Hughbanks was thrown out trying to score from second base.

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Circle’s eight-hole hitter shocked a revived Hillsboro squad by ripping a home run over the center field fence to give Circle a 4-3 lead.

Hillsboro’s fate lay in the hand in the team’s No. 7, 8 and 9 hitters in the top of the seventh.

Bryan Swenson responded with a lead-off single. After Ben Walker moved him into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, Jared Fish, pinch hitting for Tyler Goldsby, stroked a double to right to bring Swenson home with the tying run.

After Marsh flied out to left for the second out, Metcalf doubled, scoring Fish with the go-ahead run. Metcalf then scored on a single to center by Jost to give Hillsboro a 6-4 advantage.

Metcalf took over pitching in the bottom of the seventh and closed the door on Circle for the win.

Hillsboro 14, Russell 5

July 4 at McPherson Tournament

Russell 0 2 0 0 3- 5 6 0

Hillsboro (11-5) 2 3 8 1 x-14 10 1

Hillsboro pitching: Marsh (W), 5 innings, 24 batters, 2 strikeouts, 2 walks, 6 hits, 5 runs, 5 earned runs, 0 wild pitches, 0 hit batters, 0 balks. Catcher: Chisholm.

Hillsboro hitting: (ab-r-h-rbi) Marsh 1-2-1-0, Metcalf 1-2-2-3, Jost 4-0-2-2, Ratzlaff 3-2-1-1, Chisholm 3-1-2-1, Swenson 4-1-2-1, S. Hughbanks 0-2-0-0, Walker 1-2-0-0, Fish 2-2-1-3 (Goldsby, courtesty runner). Totals:19-14-10-12. 3B: Chisholm. 2B: Mertcalf, Jost, Ratzlaff, Swenson.

Hillsboro 14, Russell 5

July 4, McPherson Tournament, Game 1

Russell 0 2 0 0 3- 5 6 0

Hillsboro (11-5) 2 3 8 1 x-14 10 1

Hillsboro pitching: Marsh (W), 5 innings, 24 batters, 2 strikeouts, 2 walks, 6 hits, 5 runs, 5 earned runs, 0 wild pitches, 0 hit batters, 0 balks. Catcher: Chisholm.

Hillsboro hitting: (ab-r-h-rbi) Marsh 1-2-1-0, Metcalf 1-2-2-3, Jost 4-0-2-2, Ratzlaff 3-2-1-1, Chisholm 3-1-2-1 (Goldsby, courtesty runner), Swenson 4-1-2-1, S. Hughbanks 0-2-0-0, Walker 1-2-0-0, Fish 2-2-1-3. Totals:19-14-10-12. 3B: Chisholm. 2B: Metcalf, Jost, Ratzlaff, Swenson.

Hillsboro 12, McPherson 4

July 4, McPherson Tournament, Game 2

McPherson 1 0 0 3 0- 4 6 5

Hillsboro (12-5) 3 1 0 5 3-12 12 2

Hillsboro pitching: Jost (W), 5 innings, 21 batters, 2 strikeouts, 1 walk, 6 hits, 4 runs, 3 earned runs, 0 wild pitches, 1 hit batter, 0 balks. Catcher: Chisholm.

Hillsboro hitting: (ab-r-h-rbi) Marsh 3-1-1-1, Metcalf 4-2-3-2, Jost 4-2-2-2, Ratzlaff 2-1-1-0, Chisholm 3-1-1-3 (Goldsby, courtesty runner), Swenson 3-0-1-2, S. Hughbanks 3-2-2-0, C. Hughbanks 3-3-1-0, Fish 3-0-0-0. Totals: 28-12-12-10. 2B: Jost.

Nickerson 8, Hillsboro 0

July 5, McPherson Tournament, Game 3

Hillsboro (12-6) 0 0 0 0 0 0-0 5 0

Nickerson 1 1 3 1 0 2-8 12 0

Hillsboro pitching: Metcalf (L), 5.2 innings, 33 batters, 4 strikeouts, 4 walks, 12 hits, 8 runs, 8 earned runs, 0 wild pitches, 0 hit batters, 0 balks. Catcher: Chisholm.

Hillsboro hitting: (ab-r-h-rbi) Marsh 3-0-3-0, Metcalf 3-0-0-0, Jost 3-0-0-0, Ratzlaff 2-0-1-0, Chisholm 3-0-0-0, S. Hughbanks 2-0-1-0, Swenson 2-0-0-0, B. Walker 2-0-0-0, Fish 0-0-0-0 (C. Hughbanks 2-0-0-0). Totals: 22-0-5-0. 2B: Marsh, S. Hughbanks.

Hillsboro 6, Circle 4

July 5, McPherson Tournament, Game 4

Hillsboro (13-6) 0 0 0 1 0 2 3-6 10 1

Circle 0 2 1 0 0 1 0-4 4 0

Hillsboro pitching: Chisholm 3 innings, 17 batters, 3 strikeouts, 4 walks, 3 hits, 3 runs, 3 earned runs, 3 wild pitches, 1 hit batter, 0 balks; S. Hughbanks (W) 3 innings, 11 batters, 2 strikeouts, 0 walks, 1 hit, 1 run, 1 earned run, 0 wild pitches, 1 hit batter, 0 balks; Metcalf (S) 1 inning, 4 batters, 0 strikeouts, 0 walks, 0 hits, 0 runs, 0 wild pitches, 1 hit batter, 0 balks. Catcher: Goldsby.

Hillsboro hitting: (ab-r-h-rbi) Marsh 4-0-0-0, Metcalf 4-2-2-1, Jost 4-1-2-2, Ratzlaff 3-1-2-0, S. Hughbanks 4-0-1-1, Chisholm 3-0-1-0, Swenson 2-1-1-0, B. Walker 3-0-0-0, Goldsby 1-0-1-0 (Fish 1-1-1-1). Totals: 28-6-10-5. HR: Jost. 2B: Metcalf, Fish.

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