LAWRENCE A perfect first inning paved the way for Blue Valley to win its fourth Kansas 6A state baseball title and fifth overall across all the classes.
The early cushion came in handy as the seventh-seeded Tigers hung on to beat No. 1 seed Manhattan 12-8 on Friday evening at Hoglund Ballpark.
Senior Michael Lane started the game for Blue Valley with a ringing double, and he scored on a RBI single by senior Daniel Hegarty. The Tigers were so on fire against Manhattan that they knocked the starting pitcher out before he recorded an out. Blue Valley senior Justin Mitchell delivered the crunching blow with a two-run triple in the first.
“That set the tone for the whole game,” Lane said. “I was trying to be aggressive early and get us started. We have great pitching. We knew if we put two or three runs on the board, we would have it the rest of the game.”
By the time junior Logan Pittman took the mound for Blue Valley, the Tigers held a 4-0 lead. Pittman quickly showed he was in top form, striking out the first two batters he faced.
“It was great,” Pittman said. “I locked in a little bit and worked four innings. That is all you can ask for.”
The Tigers tacked on four more runs in the third and built a commanding 9-0 lead. Blue Valley, which finished the season 16-9, won 6A titles in 2008, 2010 and 2014 and claimed a 5A title in 1992.
“It shows how good we are year in and year out,” Lane said. “We were the seventh seed and counted out a little bit. It shows how strong we are.”
The 2017 championship probably had deeper meaning for Blue Valley than the previous titles. In mid-February, popular head football coach Eric Driskell suddenly passed away with a ruptured brain aneurysm. It hit the school hard.
“It has been a very difficult spring on the staff and kids,” Blue Valley baseball coach Tony Scardino said. “Going into the state tournament, we dedicated it to coach Driskell. We wore Driskell bracelets. We miss him. I think this was a great tribute to him.”
Blue Valley wasn’t perfect. The first hiccup for the Tigers came in the bottom of the third when they committed an error that led to two runs.
The Tigers committed another error in the bottom of the fourth that put runners on first and second with zero outs. This time Pittman wiggled out of the jam by striking out the next batter and then getting a double play.
“That was huge,” Pittman said. “The line drive back at me, and I dropped it. But we were able to get a double play.”
Manhattan took advantage of a new pitcher and scored three runs in the bottom of the fifth and closed to 9-5.
But the Tigers scored three runs in the sixth for a 12-5 lead. The key hit was a two-out, two-run single by senior Nathan Huber.
“I am so happy and proud of them,” Scardino said.
Third place: Blue Valley Northwest 9, Olathe Northwest 1
Trailing by one in the top of the third, Blue Valley Northwest senior Johnny Sprinkle started a four-run deluge with a double to center field that hit off the base of the wall, 400 feet away.
One out later, Sprinkle scored the tying run on a single by freshman Ryan Callahan. Later in the inning, senior catcher Connor Ellefson ripped a two-run double.
The Huskies, who finished the season 16-9, never trailed again. A one-out RBI double by junior Clayton Leathers ignited a three-run sixth that put the game away.
Olathe Northwest, which also finished 16-9, struck first. The Ravens took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second on a two-out RBI single by junior Nathan Niceswanger.
▪ Blue Valley 3, Olathe Northwest 0: Locked in a 0-0 pitcher’s duel, Blue Valley got the game-breaking hit from senior Clayton Ingram. His two-run single in the top of the fifth highlighted a three-run inning by the Tigers.
The pitching combination of sophomore Patryk Hernandez and junior Logan Pittman did the rest for Blue Valley. They held Olathe Northwest to one hit.
▪ Manhattan 6, Blue Valley Northwest 3: Blue Valley Northwest fell behind 3-0 after three innings to No. 1 seed Manhattan and then fought back, scoring two in the fourth and tying the game 3-3 in the top of the sixth.
Manhattan answered in the bottom of the sixth with three runs. Senior Braedyn Woborny entered in relief for Manhattan in the fourth inning and got the win.
Senior Drake Marker had a triple for Blue Valley Northwest, and seniors Connor Ellefson and Drew Black each had a double.