DONNELLSON — There is an old adage in baseball that you never play tomorrow’s game today.
In hindsight, Central Lee High School’s 2-1 victory over Mediapolis in Saturday’s Class 2A district championship game at Central Lee High School was won a year ago.
Knowing his team would need outfielders this season, Central Lee head coach Shane Weirather had the foresight to move Kade Myhre, who had played infield all his life, to outfield at the junior-varsity level last year.
Myhre made Weirather look like a genius, coming up with a sensational diving catch of a line drive off the bat of Max McClure with no outs and a runner at second in the sixth inning. Myhre had the wherewithal to gather himself and fire the ball to second baseman Jonny Snider, who touched the base to double off Jaxon Brooks and preserve the Hawks’ third consecutive district title.
Weirather didn’t play tomorrow’s game today, but his foresight a year ago certainly went a long way toward helping the Hawks win Saturday’s game.
"I have full trust in our pitchers, so I was just ready for anything," Myhre said of his defensive gem, which helped Central Lee hold onto it’s one-run lead. "I saw it well off the bat and just got in there. Jonny (Snider) at second base made a nice play to complete the double play. That was the key part right there."
"He has been an infielder for a long time. We switched him last year in JV because we knew we were going to need him this year. That was a lot of playing center field last year as a JV player and getting him ready for this year and it worked," Weirather said. "I think they played excellent defense. It comes down to you have one little misstep there in a close game like that. Good for us being able to win one game, 9-6, and come back and win the other one, 2-1."
Central Lee (12-1) advances to a substate final to face sixth-ranked Mid-Prairie (14-3) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Mediapolis.
Mediapolis ends the season with an 8-6 record.
In a game of inches, it was Central Lee which got the two biggest breaks of the game.
Mediapolis cracked the scoreboard first. Colby Whitaker led off the third inning by reaching on an error, advanced to second on a single by starting pitcher Tyler Samuel, raced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Ensminger and scored on a two-out single by Drayven Fenton.
While defense had been a weakness early in the season for the Bulldogs, it was a strength on this night.
Senior centerfielder Josh Darbyshire made three scintillating catches to rob Central Lee of extra bases, and third baseman Brooks made a spectacular leaping grab of a line drive off the bat of T.J. Stutes that seemed destined for the corner leading off the bottom of the first inning.
"I didn’t know he had the ups like that, but that was pretty sweet. He’s quite the baseball player. We’re happy he’s just a sophomore," Mediapolis coach Rick Whitaker said of Brooks.
With his defense making plays behind him, Samuel had the Hawks frustrated for much of the night.
"At the beginning of the season we were struggling on defense and we would give up four or five outs an inning. Next thing you know we’re down, 6-0. At the end of the season they really started playing well on defense. That’s why we got on that little streak there at the end was because of our defense," Whitaker said. "Tyler has been doing that all year. He keeps the hitters off-balance. He’s got that really slow curveball that just drives hitters nuts. You have to wait on it. I was a little worried about this ballpark because it’s a little smaller. He’s a fly-ball pitcher sometimes because they get out on their front foot because they thing they’re going to hit a line drive. I was worried, but balls weren’t carrying like I thought they were going to carry today."
Hawk, who struggled in his previous outing on the mound in a 9-6 win over Van Buren, knotted the game with one swing of his bat in the fourth inning, roping a Samuel pitch over the left-field fence.
Sophomore third baseman Alex Sandoval, who has struggled at the plate this year while recovering from a back injury, led off the fifth with a single off the glove of a leaping Brooks at third. He stole second and later scored on an error on a fly ball off the bat of Stutes to give the Hawks the lead.
"It felt good off the bat. The third baseman made a great effort. I know him personally. Just little things. You have to put the ball in play. Hit it on the ground. Keep it out of the air. Defense can make errors, so you have to put it in play," Sandoval said. "We know each other from playing together for a while now. Heck of a game. You can’t take anything away from that Mepo team. They played us close. Kudos to them."
Hawk came on to close out the final two innings, with a big assist from Myhre, who made the play of the season for Central Lee in the top of the sixth.
"That was a big spot. After a walk and a soft liner. That was a great play," Weirather said. "You just never know who is going to step up. This time it was Kade who stepped up and made a big play. Good for him standing out there in left field all night, being ready to make that play in a big spot. That’s a big deal."
"I had a ball last game that I dove for and didn’t quite get, so I was just trying to get that one," Myhre said. "That makes it a lot easier diving for that ball when you know you have someone back there to back you up."
It was the type of performance Hawk needed to regain his confidence on the mound heading into the team’s third straight substate final
"It meant a lot. The team was hyped up. I give them all the credit. Without them, it wouldn’t be close to being this fun to play," Hawk said. "That’s huge. Kade’s play in left. Just solid all the way around. It saved me a couple times. All in all, giving up just one run to that team is a good accomplishment."
As for Whitaker, he was proud of his team’s accomplishments and already looking forward to next season.
"We lost five seniors last year an nobody expected us to be 8-6 and be playing this good of baseball," Whitaker said. "We had a chip on our shoulder. Next year we’re going to lose four more good seniors. We have to reload again. We’ll see how it goes. I will miss these guys. They are excellent leaders, on and off the field."
WP — Dylan Stuecker (2-0). LP — Tyler Samuel (3-1). HR — Jadon Hawk (CL). RBI — Mediapolis: Drayven Fenton 1; Central Lee: Hawk 1.
Records: Mediapolis 8-6; Central Lee 12-1.