Even on the heels of another disappointing end to the season, Midwest Athletics manager Will Rogers could still see the silver lining.
The Athletics’ fourth season in the Mid-Plains League came to an end July 18 with a 10-5 loss to the Junction City Brigade in the third game of a best-of-three semifinal series in the Cowdin Cup playoffs. For a team that finished as East Division champions and held the league’s best record most of the season, the ending came sooner than Rogers expected.
“I’m disappointed, but it’s not about me,” Rogers said. “It’s about the kids getting opportunities to get better and I feel really, really well about some of our kids.”
Recounting the progress made by many of the A’s during the season helped soften the blow for Rogers even after a second-straight loss in the semifinals to Junction City. Most of these players, he said, were not front-line starters on their college teams.
And some of them made great strides over the summer. There was Charlie Williams, who came in a back-up infielder from Allen County (Kan.) Community College and developed into a pitcher who led the league in saves. Jeremy Husband, an unheralded freshman pitcher last season at Northeastern (Okla.) State, increased his throwing velocity from 78 to 85 mph and is now commanding his college team’s attention.
Then there’s Lee’s Summit High graduate Dalen Blair. Blair will return to Briar Cliff College in Iowa after posting a league-best 6-0 record that helped him earn the league’s Pitcher of the Year award.
“Some of these kids have really responded and it’s helped their career,” Rogers said. And to me that’s what this is all about. Winning championships is nice, but seeing these guys progress and fulfilling their potential … that’s’ what I get out of it.”
Rogers saw potential for a deep playoff run with his pitching staff set. But Blair struggled in the series opener, and the A’s found themselves down 5-0 after the first two innings of a 10-5 loss in Junction City.
Husband helped the A’s bounce back the next day when he held Junction City to three hits over seven shutout innings for a 6-1 victory on their home field in Belton. Tucker Perkins, who went three for four in the opener, was three for four again with a solo homer in the fifth inning.
The third game, pushed back a day by rain and moved from Belton to Topeka, started with A’s trailing 6-0 after two innings. Errors fueled three-run rallies by Junction City in both innings.
The A’s closed the gap with four runs in the bottom of the second inning with the help of a two-run single from Perkins, but they couldn’t get any closer. Midwest had five pitchers combine to walk 10 with just two strikeouts.
“That’s unlike us,” said Rogers, whose team outhit Junction City 13-9. “We competed with the sticks really well. We just had two innings where critical errors allowed each inning to continue.”
And the A’s season didn’t continue. They finished 22-11, good for the second-best record in the league.
Another good indicator to Rogers on how far the team progressed over the two-month season.
“We had only three guys on our entire team who played in or started for their colleges,” Rogers said. “So in retrospect, I think we exceeded further than what we should have.”