Up seven runs with three outs to go, UMB Bank catcher Eli Keppler walked around the dugout, formulating plans for how the team would dog-pile pitcher Lane Noel when he got the last out. And wondering whether it would be OK to dump a bucket of water on manager Cary Lundy.
As the seventh inning of that Game 4 started, Lundy started packing up the dugout, shaking his players’ hands as if to say, “Goodbye, this is it.”
Then Noel gave up four straight hits, the last a grand slam. UMB Bank’s lead was cut to three, with no outs and the Ban Johnson League Championship on the line.
Suddenly, just two nights after UMB Bank had come back from seven runs down in the seventh inning to win 14-13, the tables had turned.
But Keppler does not — not even minutely — believe in jinxes. So when closer Daniel Lamunyon took the mound on the diamond in Shawnee, Keppler wasn’t thinking about what could happen. He already knew what would.
In took Lamunyon, an Emporia State pitcher, four batters to record the three outs and win the Ban Johnson League Championship over the Milgram Mustangs 10-7.
“No, hell no, I wasn’t worried,” Keppler said. “I was so comfortable. Lamunyon’s the best pitcher in the whole league. ”
It was Lamunyon who clinched the game and earned a save, but it was series MVP Austyn Cochran, a North Arkansas College outfielder and pitcher, who put them there in the first place.
Cochran was 4-for-4 on the night with two doubles, three RBIs and a run, all just one night after he pitched six innings and gave up only one run in UMB Bank’s second win of the series on Wednesday. He finished the series 8-for-15 for two doubles and eight RBIs.
UMB Bank’s run, along with Cochran’s performance at the plate, was kick-started in Tuesday’s win. When the team had a seven-run, two-out rally to win that game — a comeback like Lundy had never seen before — it loosened the tensions before the team rattled off its next two games.
“It sparked us to play more innings but just relaxed,” Cochran said. “We just kept hitting and hitting, and things fell into place. That really helped us win the championship.”
It was what Cochran will miss most about this team after they go back to their colleges, or onto the real world, that also pulled them together in those last two games: camaraderie.
Hanging out on Friday nights around Kansas City, where most of them are from, and coming together on the baseball field to win a championship. That’s what Cochran will miss the most.
“Relationships are forever,” Lundy said. “So that’s what it’s all about.”