The Ell-Saline High School baseball squad reaffirmed one of the oldest sayings in the book Thursday afternoon: It ain’t over ’til it’s over.
Trailing 1-0 with two outs in the top of the seventh inning in the quarterfinal round of the 2A-1A State Baseball Championship in Great Bend, the Cardinals found themselves staring down the end of a successful 2018 campaign. Ell-Saline fans surely would’ve remembered this squad fondly regardless of the outcome. After all, the Cardinals had compiled a 16-7 record, won the regional championship and had made their first trip back to the State tournament since winning it all in 2013.
Now, five years to the day from the biggest win in the history of the Ell-Saline baseball program, it appeared that fourth-seeded Kansas City Christian was primed to end the Cardinals’ hopes of a claiming a second State championship trophy.
Sophomore Connor Anglin ensured that the folks around Brookville would have at least one more magic moment to look back upon – and that there would be no looking back quite yet.
Facing a 1-2 count with the season hanging in the balance, Anglin served a slider from Kansas City Christian junior pitcher Briley Burrow into right-center field for a base hit, scoring Cardinal seniors Brandon Headlough and Spencer Came to give Ell-Saline its first lead of the game at 2-1.
Headlough had drawn a one-out walk, with Came following up with Ell-Saline’s only extra-base hit of the game, ripping a double to the center field fence to give the Cardinals runners at second and third. Sophomore Kaden Griffin struck out, setting the stage for Anglin’s two-out at bat.
Needing three more outs to secure the victory, all eyes fell upon Ell-Saline senior Richard Davis.
The Cardinal ace followed up six stellar innings on the hill by striking out Panther juniors Ethan Forshey and Owen Veer to begin the bottom of the seventh before getting senior Josh Kucera to ground out to second base to secure the 2-1 victory and advance fifth-seeded Ell-Saline into the State semifinals.
Fans were treated to a classic pitcher’s duel throughout, as Davis went round for round with Kansas City Christian junior ace Nelson Schutte.
Both teams went hitless through the first two innings of play before Ell-Saline senior Murphy Seim singled to shallow center in the top of the third. The Panthers would strike back in the bottom half of the inning.
Forshey led off the inning with a base hit. Veer followed by grounding to Headlough, the Cardinal first baseman. Headlough cut down the lead runner at second, leaving Veer aboard at first with one out. After a Kucera strikeout, Panther junior Caleb Tywater laced a Davis fastball into deep center field for a double, scoring Veer from first to break the scoreless tie.
In the top of the fourth, Ell-Saline senior Nathan Parks drew a leadoff walk. Parks would be the final Cardinal to reach base over the next three innings, as Schutte retired the next nine batters he faced.
While Schutte was dealing, Davis was doing the same, surrendering just one hit over the fourth and fifth innings before running into a sixth-inning jam. With two outs and a runner at first, Davis walked Kansas City Christian sophomore Chase Hill, then allowed a single to Burrow before getting Panther senior Michael Holst to pop out to Ell-Saline senior Brody Ditto at third to leave the bases loaded.
Davis scored the complete game victory, tossing seven innings of one-run, five-hit baseball, striking out seven Panther hitters while walking just one.
Schutte took the tough-luck loss, turning in 6 2/3 innings of phenomenal work on the hill, allowing just two Cardinal hits while striking out eight. He was forced from the game in the top of the seventh after exceeding the 105-pitch count allowed, per KSHSAA rules. The two runners left on base following Schutte’s departure became the only two runs ticketed to the young hurler on the day following the Anglin base hit surrendered by Burrow.
Ell-Saline will square off with Pittsburg – St. Mary’s Colgan on Friday morning at 11:00am from the Great Bend Sports Complex. The eighth-seeded Panthers knocked off top-seeded Elkhart 12-6 in the first quarterfinal-round matchup Thursday afternoon.