No one envisioned such a sudden ending for the Midwest Athletics. In three days, the A’s went from being the No. 1 postseason seed to saying their summer goodbyes.
The A’s series against the Junction City Brigade in the Cowdin Cup semifinals started out fine, with a come-from-behind victory Saturday on their home field at Belton High School. Then came a jarring one-run loss on Sunday in Junction City.
On Monday, it all came to an end with a sloppy 9-4 loss at Belton that was nowhere as close as the final score.
And just like that, the A’s, despite their 21-6 record that was the best in the Mid-Plains League this season, were over and done.
“The whole game was a surprise,” A’s manager Will Rogers said. “We averaged almost nine runs a game on the season and that was less than half of what we normally score.”
Rogers didn’t expect the A’s to come out so lifeless knowing that a victory would put them back in the final for the Cowdin Cup, which goes to the summer college league’s champion. But Junction City rolled out three runs on five hits in the first inning, and the A’s managed only four hits until a four-run, four-hit rally in the bottom of the ninth.
By then, the A’s were buried 9-0 after an ugly four-run sixth that saw them commit two of their five errors.
“I guess we just came out a little flat and they took it to us early,” A’s second baseman Dusty Stroup said. “And we could never get the momentum going our way. I feel like we prepared for it, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way. It’s baseball.”
“They came out a lot more excited about baseball than our guys were,” Rogers said. “Our guys came out expecting to win and it was almost like going through the motions.”
Rogers thought the A’s helped create that excitement the night before in Junction City, Kan., when they blew a 3-0 lead in a 6-5 loss. The A’s had that lead until the bottom of the fifth when the Brigade scored five runs, four on a grand slam by Charlie Peyla that was preceded by four walks.
Instead of eliminating an 18-12 team they had beaten two out of three games during the regular season and 11-4 in Saturday’s series opener, Rogers said the Athletics gave the Brigade hope.
“(Sunday’s) game is the one that resulted in this,” Rogers said. “They won on their home field and they believed.”
Monday’s first inning cemented that belief. Junction City loaded the bases with a leadoff single and two walks off A’s starter Brant Millerborg and scored its first run when a grounder bounced off the heel of shortstop Shane Boyor’s glove. Colin Chandler smacked a two-run double two outs later.
The A’s, meanwhile struggled against Brigade starter Joseph Flood. Flood, a left-hander who plays for MCC-Longview, held the A’s to a hit and a walk over five scoreless innings.
“He moved the ball in and out up and down,” Rogers said. “Our guys are a fastball hitting team and he was slow. We were out on our front foot, so you saw a lot of popups and rollovers.
Junction City picked up another run on three hits in the fifth, and the floodgates opened in the sixth. A bases-loaded walk brought home the first run; a balk accounted for another. Another scored when the A’s didn’t pay attention to runner rounding third base following a force out at second.
“We’ve never had a game with more than three errors. To have five, that was so uncharacteristic,” Rogers said. “We also had probably two or three mental errors, which is a reflection of being flat.”
That wasn’t an issue in the series opener, even after the A’s fell behind 4-0 in the first inning. They got two back in the bottom of the first on Eli Dilday’s two-run homer, his first of two in the series, and tied it in the second with a two-run double from Tucker Perkins. Perkins, who was three for four with two doubles and five RBIs, added a three-run double in the fourth that broke the game open.
“We know with this lineup that we’re never out of any fight,” said Perkins, a Belton High graduate who now plays for Emporia State. “We just keep swinging and we know four runs isn’t going to beat us.”
The A’s couldn’t find that offense Monday, and Junction City moved on to the Cowdin Cup final to face the Topeka Golden Giants. The Brigade is going for its second straight title after sweeping the A’s in last year’s three-game final series.
One bad night kept the A’s from another shot at the title, but Rogers isn’t going to dwell on that. There were too many good games and good times for him to do so.
“It’s a great bunch of guys,” Rogers said. “So it was a very enjoyable summer from that regard. It certainly didn’t end on a note I would like, but I’m certainly not disappointed in the season.”