Cardinals primed for Piper playoff
This is what the Eudora Cardinals baseball team has been playing for all year. Forget league titles and regional seeding. Eudora wanted a shot at the Piper Pirates.
The same Piper team that destroyed the Cards hopes of a state tournament berth a season ago -- a game in which Eudora blew a 3-0 fifth-inning lead.
When the No. 1 Cardinals (17-4) eliminated No. 8 Tonganoxie (2-19) on Monday 5-2, the rematch became a reality.
Fifth-seeded Piper (10-11) pummeled fourth-seeded West Franklin (13-6) by a score of 13-1 earlier in the day.
"It's going to be a battle," head coach Dirk Kinney said. "I think our kids are going to be fired up. They better be.
"Piper ruined our season last year, and hopefully we can get to them Eudora may have overlooked Tongie on Monday. With the Chieftains' 2-18 record and the Piper game looming, the Cards looked uninterested.
"We were a bit flat," Kinney said. "A couple of things could have happened. A, we could have overlooked them. Or B, we practiced pretty hard yesterday, and we practiced pretty hard Saturday.
"There are plenty of excuses, but the bottom line is we didn't come to play."
Senior Chris Gabriel took the hill for his first post-season start and was consistent only in his inconsistency.
"(Gabriel) didn't have his first-team all-league stuff, but he got the job done with what he had," Kinney said. "He's been a bulldog for four years.
"The only thing that scares me about (Gabriel) is sometimes he loses focus, but he knuckles down and gets the job done."
Gabriel gutted out a complete game, allowing two runs on eight hits while striking out eight and walking three. He also hit a couple.
While Gabriel was searching for a rhythm, the offense was searching for runs.
Eudora struck first blood with a run in the second.
Sophomore Chad Griffin led off the inning with a double over the left fielder's head. The next batter, senior Troy Van Horn, delivered a triple past the right fielder.
The Cards stranded Van Horn at third but left the second inning with a 1-0 lead.
That lead would hold up until the Chieftains' half of the fifth.
Tongie strung together three consecutive hits, tying the game with a rally that started with two outs and nobody on.
A subsequent wild pitch left runners at second and third with the game and the season weighing in the balance. But Gabriel managed to coax a harmless groundball to senior third baseman Aaron Westerhouse for the third out of the inning.
The scare may have awakened the Cards.
Sophomore leadoff man Miles Cleveland ignited the bottom of the fifth inning with an infield single off the diving glove of the Tongie first baseman. Cleveland moved to second on a wild pitch.
Junior Paul Smith did a nice job of hitting, slapping and a grounder to the right side -- moving the runner over to third. But, the ball hit a rock or something and leaped the Tongie second baseman in a single bound.
The fluke bounce delivered a Cardinal run and a sense of destiny.
It also sparked a four-run frame.
Eudora got singles from Westerhouse, Griffin and sophomore Kyle Brouhard in the inning.
Brouhard's bases loaded single was the sole bright spot for the bottom half of the order. The bottom one-third of the line up combined to go 1-for-11 with eight strikeouts.
The first five hitters, however, went 7-for-15, scoring all five runs.
Tonganoxie starter junior Josh Putthoff was impressive and deserves credit for keeping the game close.
"The Putthoff kid threw well," Kinney said. "I was in shock when they took him out."
Tonganoxie replaced Putthoff with lefty junior Hunter Samuels in the midst of the fifth. The Chieftain southpaw held the Cards in check the remainder of the contest.
"(Tonganoxie's) just young," Kinney said. "They're going to be tough in a couple of years."
The top seed is going to get everyone's best shot.
"It's good to get it over with and get it out of the way," Kinney said. "This program hasn't had a first-round victory in I don't know how many years."
Now, the Cards really can look forward to the Piper contest.
Junior Rod Evinger gets the call for the revenge game -- the same pitcher who was stuck with last year's loss.
"Hopefully (Evinger's) fired up," Kinney said. "He's not a very emotional kid, but it's us versus Piper."
The Cardinals play the Pirates at 3 p.m. Thursday in Eudora.
The Eudora/Piper winner gets the winner of the third-seeded Bishop Ward (14-5) and second-seeded Sumner Academy (15-4) game in the regional championship.
Sumner advanced with a 10-7 win over No. 7 Basehor-Linwood (8-11). Ward advanced with a 15-0 devastation of No. 6 De Soto (8-11).