The Arrows could have easily given up after dropping their first state tournament game, Brian Long said.
A 7-4 loss against Hays Wednesday night made the path to a third straight American Legion state title longer and less certain. But there was no quit for a special group of players, Long, Arrows head coach, said.
“To lose the first game, and come all the way back...there’s one team in the state that can do that, and that’s the one that did it,” he said after Ottawa Post 60 was crowned state champions Sunday. “For all this to go the way it did, it was pretty sweet. I can’t comprehend what we’ve just done at this point and time, but I’m sure after the season we’ll relax and look back, and understand it a little more. It’s a crazy accomplishment.”
Ottawa won six straight games against the top teams in Kansas to complete the comeback. The Arrows topped Great Bend 10-6 Sunday in the championship game after beating the Chiefs 9-1 Saturday to force Sunday’s game. The Arrows now advance to the Mid-South Regional starting Wednesday in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Ottawa jumped all over the Chiefs early Sunday. A two-run home run by Trevor Boehm, catcher, in the game’s second at-bat was followed by a two-RBI hit by Grant Maxwell, first baseman. Keegan Finch, outfielder, launched a three-run bomb with two outs to give the Arrows a 7-0 lead after one inning.
Boehm said his dinger will be the moment he remembers most from the tournament. It was an integral part of a difference-making inning.
“We were hyped, really hyped,” Boehm said of the team after taking the lead. “Everyone was up in the dugout was wanting to pour it on them even more, and not let up and give it back to them.”
The Chiefs, though, didn’t leave without a fight. Ottawa had a 10-2 lead in the top of the fifth, and was three outs away from clinching the title via run-rule. Great Bend’s bats struck hard with four runs to keep hope alive. That was all the offense either team could muster, and Boehm came on in relief of Brock Huddlestun, pitcher, to close out the final two innings.
“That’s a good team over there,” Long said of Great Bend. “They were worthy of representing the state too, they just ran into a team that has been focused on this for quite a while, and knew what it took to get it done. That’s a credit to our players.”
Ottawa players piled out of the dugout in celebratory fashion after the final out, capping off a run that began five days ago. In the end, Ottawa beat Arkansas City, Nickerson, Chanute, Hays and Great Bend twice in order to claim the championship.
“It’s overwhelming for sure,” Jared Parenti, oufielder, said after the celebration. “It was going to be a tough road no matter who we faced, but we knew we could do it no matter what.”
Arguably the biggest at-bat of the tournament came in Saturday’s rematch with Hays. After falling behind 5-4 in the top of the seventh, Huddlestun came up to the plate in the bottom of the frame with two outs, Donovan Sutti, third baseman, on third, and Owen Lamar, second baseman, on first. The powerful infielder rocketed a pitch to the fence in right-center, allowing Sutti and Lamar to score standing up in the 6-5 walk off victory setting up the date with Great Bend.
“I like to hit early in the count because I like to hit fastballs, and he left one up in the zone,” Huddlestun said. “I was just trying to swing hard and hopefully square it up, and I did and Owen was running around the bases for me.”
By the time Sunday rolled around, there was a calm about his team, Long said.
“We were relaxed,” he said. “We’d been here. You can’t underestimate that point. The bulk of our team has been in big game situations.”
Ottawa becomes the fourth program to win three consecutive state championships, Long noted.