Down a run, Junction City had the bases loaded with no outs in the seventh inning. The Blue Jays already had scored two in the inning and were looking to turn the game for good.
The Blue Jays fans who packed the bleachers watched in anticipation. Some stood. All were ready to erupt.
But the rally ended as abruptly as it began.
Manhattan High’s Zac Cox got three straight batters out and his team won, 3-2. The rivals split Friday’s doubleheader after Junction City (6-2) won the first contest.
“This is my final year, so I wanted to go out by sweeping Manhattan,” Junction City’s Thane McDaniel said. “But like I was telling the players, this one game doesn’t define who you are, it doesn’t define me and it doesn’t define us. Even though it’s against our rival, we can’t hang our heads about it. We can’t be mad about it.”
With the tying run at third, Cox got Andrew Khoury to pop up. Then, he froze Joshua Galarza before fanning Devin Sharpsteen for the final out.
Manhattan (3-1) celebrated.
Sharpsteen and Junction City’s three stranded baserunners walked off the field.
“We were able to battle back, get runners on,” McDaniel said. “We got it down to 3-2, so then we had bases loaded again. Then unfortunately, we weren’t able to score anyone else from that point. We all felt terrible after that game and we feel like we just missed so many opportunities to win, especially right there in that final inning. But, we can’t hang our heads about it, we can’t feel bad.
“We are guaranteed 21 games over the season, so we can’t let that one game define us.”
Before the top of the seventh, the Blue Jays were quiet.
Manhattan’s Tyce Hoover threw six scoreless frames. He gave up just four hits.
Junction City was hitless until the third. In the fourth, the Blue Jays got two runners on base before hitting into a double play.
“Tyce is actually a pretty good pitcher,” Manhattan skipper Don Hess said “What’s important for him is that we want him to believe that he’s a really good pitcher. He has to act like he’s a really good pitcher. And sometimes that’s a hard thing to do when you haven’t spent a lot of time doing it. It is important for him to pitch like an ace, and not just a guy who’s going to go through three or four or five innings and just move on. He has to want the ball. He has to fight.
“I thought he was absolutely marvelous. What he did out there was incredible.”
Before Hoover dazzled in Game 2, McDaniel stole the show in the front end of the twin bill.
McDaniel threw six innings in Junction City’s 10-6 win to begin the afternoon. The Indians scored six runs in the first two innings, but McDaniel held them scoreless in the next four.
Junction City blanked Manhattan in the final five innings of the first game.
The Blue Jays are back in action on April 12 when they host Seaman. McDaniel said he loves how close this team is.
“We all hang out with each other outside of school and outside of baseball, text in group chats — we all have a lot of fun together,” he said. “Something that I think needs work is maybe a little more focus in the hard points of the game. It’s OK to have fun, but at certain points you need to bear down and lock it in. And during other parts of the game it’s OK to loosen up and have more fun. So, I think you just need to learn the difference, which we’ve done a good job of, but if we had to fix one thing I think it would be that.”