Movin’ on up
Regional champs, the Eudora baseball team now eyes state
It finally happened.
After four years at the helm of the Eudora Cardinals baseball team, head coach Dirk Kinney completed the task he set out to do when he took over the team in 2003.
Eudora ended three seasons worth of regional tournament frustrations Tuesday night as it clinched its first berth in the 4A state baseball tournament in the program's eight-year history with a 7-2 title game victory over Louisburg at Eudora.
"I'm so proud of these guys right now," Kinney said. "Especially these seniors who've had to put up with me for four years. I'm not the easiest guy to be coached by, but these guys stuck it out and really earned it."
The win erased the memories of previous regional tournament defeats at the hands of Kansas City Ward and Piper.
Seniors Mark Abel, Luke Abel, Chad Griffin, Kyle Brouhard and Miles Cleveland all came aboard as freshman during Kinney's first year and were part of those early tournament exits, including last year's ouster as the regional's number one seed.
"We've been real close so many times and it was frustrating," Cleveland said. "It's really nice for us seniors who have been here. It's just a great experience to finally get it done."
The regional-clinching win came for the Cardinals after beginning the title game in a bit of a funk.
Eudora couldn't get things going in the first two innings after the second-seeded Wildcats jumped out to a 1-0 lead in their half of the first.
Cleveland helped jump start the offense in the third by leading off the inning with a triple.
Mark Abel then got the Cardinals even with a sacrifice fly.
Louisburg wasn't done though, as they used a three-hit attack in the following inning off Eudora sophomore starter Kelson Boyer to take the lead back, 2-1.
But as outs began to dwindle, the Cardinals finally took over the game in the fourth inning by taking the lead for good with a pair of runs on back-to-back hits and an error.
A Rodney Spillman double, which followed Luke Abel's leadoff single, helped put the Cardinals up 3-2.
Boyer, making his first postseason start, didn't let the Wildcats back in the game as he made the lead stand by going the distance for the win.
"We were going to ride him tonight," Kinney said. "He had a lot of rest and only pitched a few innings for us and tonight he got it done."
Eudora would go on to add four runs in the sixth to remove any doubt they would be heading to Salina for next week's tournament.
"We struggled a little bit, but once we got ahead, we just knew we were going to do it," Cleveland said.
The road to the state tournament began with a pair of wins in the first and second rounds over fourth-seed Fort Scott and Frontier League opponent Spring Hill.
In the semifinal game earlier Tuesday, the Cardinals made quick work of Fort Scott by shelling the Tigers 15-0 in four innings to earn their spot in the title game.
Eudora took advantage of three consecutive hit batters to start the game, which fueled a seven-run inning putting the game's outcome to rest before it really began.
In Monday's opener Eudora got off to a shaky start before finally pulling away with a four-run fifth inning for a 6-1 win.
The Cardinals went with starter Kent Swanson for game one and in the first inning retired the Bronco batters in order.
The offense got to work immediately by touching Spring Hill starter Cody Lillich for two runs, both unearned.
Swanson retired the next Bronco he faced before disaster nearly struck. With one out in the second inning, Spring Hill's Ryan Bontrager lined a 3-1 fastball off Swanson's left knee.
After a few minutes and some warm up pitches, Swanson regrouped and finished the inning.
"It hurt, but I was able to walk it off," Swanson said. "At this point of the season though, I wanted to do everything I could to stay in the game. I didn't want to come out."
The right-hander returned for the third, but ran into problems. Swanson gave up two walks and an RBI single, which put the Broncos within one.
The Cardinals slim 2-1 lead was finally expanded in the fifth when the line up came to life and chased Lillich with a four-run outburst. Senior Brouhard delivered a single that scored Mark Abel. Left fielder Luke Abel added to the offense with an RBI double.
"The first one is always the hardest," Kinney said. "He (Lillich) is a good pitcher. He was throwing curveballs and a lot of junk up there that we were chasing."
Boyer, who relieved Swanson in the fifth, set the Broncos down in order in the sixth and turned the ball over to Brouhard in the seventh for the final three outs of the game.