Panthers reach state tournament for second straight year
WAMEGO — Being patient paid off for the Concordia Panthers.
Tied at 1-1 with Rock Creek heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, the Panthers showed patience at the plate by drawing four consecutive walks.
A pair of two-out hits and a wild pitch turned those walks into four runs, and Concordia was on its way to a 5-1 victory over the Mustangs in the championship game of the Class 4A regional baseball tournament Wednesday night.
The win sends the Panthers to the 4A state tournament for the second year in a row.
“To get to the tournament two years in a row kind of shows the rest of the state we are an established program,” Concordia coach Brandt Hutchinson said.
Concordia placed second at state last year.
The state tournament is scheduled for May 23-24 at Dean Evans Stadium in Salina.
The Panthers have won 14 straight games, and are 17-2.
“In all aspects, mentally, defensively, pitching and offensively, we are sharp right now,” Hutchinson said, “Obviously it is the best time to be playing your best baseball.”
Senior Nathan Gieber did not need much offensive help. He gave up just one unearned run in seven innings, struck out 14 and walked one in picking up the win.
Gieber, who pitched four innings to get the win over Nemaha Valley in the semifinal game on Monday, is now 7-0 on the season with an 0.23 earned run average.
“We were talking to him about how he was feeling. If it (Gieber’s arm) was hurting we would have had to evaluate what to do,” Hutchinson said, “The type of competitor Nathan is nobody was going to be able to take him out of that game.”
Gieber set the tone early by striking out the side in the top of the first inning.
“Once they saw him strike out the side, their mentality changes a little bit,” Hutchinson said.
Drake Hake drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the first inning, but was forced out at second base on a ground ball by Jordan Mehl.
Following a strikeout, Gieber doubled to drive in Mehl.
Gieber kept the lead at 1-0 by retiring 15 of the 16 Rock Creek batters he faced over the first five innings.
Eric Beyer was the only Mustang to reach base. He walked in the third inning.
Concordia had some opportunities to extend the lead.
Nick Thomas singled to lead off the bottom of the second inning, but was picked off.
Two batters later Derek Pearson doubled, but was left stranded.
Hake singled to start the third inning, but was thrown out.
“We had some opportunities throughout the game. We were getting guys on base,” Hutchinson said, “They made some good plays and we made some bad decisions. Fortunately we overcame those small mistakes and found a way to score runs later in the game.”
Rock Creek starter Brandon Lutgen retired eight consecutive Concordia batters in the third, fourth and fifth innings, and struck out seven of those.
The Mustangs then tied the game with an unearned run in the top of the sixth inning.
Shilo Schaake tripled with one out and scored on an error to tie the game at 1-1.
Lutgen got Hake to ground out to start the bottom of the sixth inning, but then started to struggle.
Mehl drew the first of four consecutive walks, but was thrown out attempting to advance to third base on a passed ball.
Trevor Nordell, Gieber and Skyler Hittle drew consecutive walks to load the bases.
“Our kids, one through nine, don’t swing at a lot of bad pitches,” Hutchinson said.
Thomas delivered a two-out double to drive in Nordell and Gieber.
Hittle scored the third run in the inning on a wild pitch.
Shane Adams came in to relieve Lutgen, and Tanner Gilbert greeted him with a single to drive in Thomas and make it a 5-1 game.
Gieber retired the first two batters in the top of the seventh inning.
Marc Reiss struck out, but reached base on a passed ball.
Gieber struck out Brett Hammett to end the game and send the Panthers back to the state tournament.
Lutgen took the loss. He gave up five runs on five hits, struck out 10 and walked five.
Thomas had two hits and drove in two runs for Concordia.
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