Cats fritter away Frontier League title
Regular season ends with three-straight losses
Somewhere during its quest for a first-ever Frontier League championship, the De Soto baseball team forgot to do one thing: keep winning.
Needing only a split in its last two league games to earn a piece of the league title, the Wildcats dropped both matches and their last three games.
De Soto saw its chance to win a league title end Tuesday with an 11-9 first-game loss to visiting Eudora. The Wildcats went on to lose the second game 19-11. That game didn't count in the league standings, but it did count in seedings for next week's 4A regional.
The losing started last Thursday at Gardner, who bested De Soto 7-4. It continued Tuesday against Eudora in a doubleheader that saw De Soto's normally reliable pitching manhandled by the visiting Cardinals.
The 7-4 loss to the Blazers dropped De Soto -- one of the league's hottest teams going into Thursday's road match after they had won six of seven games --into a four-way tie with Gardner-Edgerton, Spring Hill and Eudora.
The Wildcats looked as if they would have a big night offensively when they scored a pair of runs in the first inning. Four of the first five Wildcats to step to the plate singled.
De Soto scored when Colby Childers, who led off the game with a single, stole second and then scored on Jerod Bader's single to right. Bader then scored when Riley Pierce belted a single to left-center.
But the Blazers cut the deficit in half during their half of the inning when Ryan Highfill scored on Scott Smith's single to left field. Highfill led off the inning with a four-pitch walk.
Each team scored a run in their half of the second inning, and then went scoreless in the third and fourth innings. Gardner took advantage of an opportunity in the fifth and the Wildcats didn't.
After Pierce and Leif Goleman struck for back-to-back two out singles, De Soto's Austin DeGraeve slapped a grounder to Blazer second baseman Gary Calhoon, who then stepped on the bag to get Pierce on the force out at second base.
The Blazers took the lead for good in their half of the inning. Jason Wheeler led off the inning by grounding a single to left.
Smith then reached on the next at bat when Goleman, who replaced Taylor Burnett on the mound in the fourth inning, threw high following a grounder to the mound.
With runners at second and third and no outs, Nathan Bulls' deep fly ball to center field scored Wheeler, and Dylan Hale's sacrifice bunt brought in Smith. Jeremiah Johnson flew out to center, ending the inning. But it was too late as the Blazers led for the first time 4-3.
Goleman gave up a single to Cody Jackson to open the Blazer's portion of the sixth inning and then loaded the bases with back-to-back one-out walks.
Wheeler received the third-straight base on balls to score Jackson and make the score 5-3. A passed ball during Smith's at bat scored Highfill, and Smith's double to left scored Zach Haney, who reached on a walk. Bull struck out, ending the inning and Gardner-Edgerton's scoring.
"It was an uncharacteristic outing for us from the mound," Coach Steve Deghand said after Burnett and Goleman combined for seven walks. "We had just 26 walks all season as a unit and then we put them on the bases like that.
"We out hit them, but they out pitched us and made more plays defensively than we did. They won two of the three phases of the game."
The Wildcats tried to rally from the deficit in the top of the seventh inning, but managed just one run. Bader led off the inning with a single to right and scored on Goleman's single up the middle. Jacob Rupe's strike out ended the game.
Blazer third baseman, Haney, played great defense to hold off the Wildcat rally by snagging line drives by Hunter Noe and Pierce for two of the three outs.
Bader led the way offensively for the Wildcats by going three-for-four from the plate and scoring two runs. Bader also knocked in two runs. Goleman added three hits in four at bats with an RBI.
Burnett and Pierce were each two-for-four. Childers, Price and Travis Crow were each credited with a hit. Childers and Price scored a run apiece, while Pierce knocked in a run.
It was close but not close enough for the De Soto Wildcats Thursday against Eudora.
The Wildcats came back from an 8-1 deficit only to lose 11-9 in the first game of a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Cardinals.
De Soto starter Leif Goleman gave up three runs in the first inning, including a solo home run to Eudora first baseman Chad Griffin.
"That first inning was a killer for us," Deghand said. "Those were three runs that all came with two outs."
Goleman came back to blank the Cardinals in the second inning before giving up a pair of runs in the third.
The Wildcats managed to get on the board in the third when junior Colby Childers led off the inning with a single. Childers managed to steal second and then reached third on a passed ball. He then scored on a groundout by center fielder Noe. The run cut the Cardinal lead to 5-1.
Eudora struck again in the fourth with three runs, including a two-run triple by opposing pitcher Rod Evinger.
The tide began to turn for the Wildcats in the fourth and fifth innings.
In the fourth, Pierce drew a leadoff walk on four pitches. Goleman then answered the triple by Evinger with one of his own that scored Pierce.
The Wildcat pitcher later scored on a groundout.
The fifth saw De Soto add two more runs on the strength of three straight singles, to cut the lead to 8-5.
Eudora quickly took the momentum back in the top of the sixth with a pair of runs to push the lead back to five at 10-5.
"That was a big inning for us," Deghand said. "We really needed to stop them in the sixth and we couldn't get it done."
Those two runs proved huge for the Wildcats as the home team battered Cardinal reliever Joe Kaup for four runs in the bottom of the sixth.
With two outs, sophomore Bader walked, which was followed by a Noe double. The extra base hit drove in the sixth Wildcat run and set up the big inning.
De Soto mixed another walk with four singles to cut the lead to 10-9 going into the final frame.
The Cardinals put one more on the board as Mark Abel delivered a two out double to put the final touches on the 11-9 game one victory.
Despite the failed comeback, the De Soto head man saw much to be proud of.
"I was proud of the way our players battled," Deghand said. "We just couldn't get over the hump tonight."
De Soto could get another shot at its western rival in the second round of the regionals. To do so, the Wildcats will have to beat Piper in Monday's first-round game at 3 p.m. at the T-Bones stadium in Kansas City, Kan.