The Junction City Jays 11U baseball team closed out their season Sunday at the Manhattan Summer Slam, falling to eventual tournament runner-ups Next Level Manhattan in the semifinals 11-13 in extra innings.
“It definitely was a long, drawn-out game,” said coach Nate Boeckman. “Both sides definitely fought — they had great pitching, we had great pitching. They put together a couple innings, we put together a couple of innings and then obviously you know both teams had some errors and whatnot, too.
“And those errors kind of what hurt us a little bit,” he added. “Just that one moment there in the last inning, if we could have just got that out. I think we could have went and put up one run. But they kind of got the momentum switch there. And I think once that moment got switched, we just couldn't quite get it back.”
The Jays earned a first round bye after sweeping two opponents Saturday to earn the number one seed in the bracket portion.
Conrad Gomez got the start for the Jays on the mound where he went six innings, allowing eight runs and garnering six strikeouts to his record.
Manhattan scored the first runs of the game in the second inning with two runners crossing the plate after a scoreless first inning.
Two and half innings later, the bottom of the fourth, Junction City tied the game when Jayson Neal and Brody Boeckman reached home safely.
Manhattan added five in the fifth inning and one in the top of the sixth while holding the Jays to three in the bottom of the fifth to take the 8-5 lead heading into the scheduled final half inning.
Gomez opened the bottom half of the inning with a leadoff double before scoring on a Hayden Paolino single to pull the Jays within two.
After a strikeout for the first out of the inning, Khaliel Walker hit a grounder to short where the player tagged second base to get Paolino on the force and allowing Walker to reach first on the fielders choice.
Walker stole second base before moving to third on a single to left field by Quentin Alderfer.
Alderfer would steal second to put the two into scoring position.
Both Walker and Alderfer scored on a Mu’aadh Harris single to right field to tie the game, sending it to extra innings.
Both teams switched pitchers to save inning counts for the possibility of advancing to the championship with Harris taking the hill for the Jays.
Both Manhattan and Junction City went down in order in the seventh inning before Next Level was able to get two runners onto the base path in the eighth. A strikeout by Harris closed the inning with the two runners stranded on the bases.
That little momentum swing propelled Next Level to shut down Junction City in the bottom-half of the inning before scoring five runs in the ninth to take the lead with several runners moving into scoring position on errors.
“Those are things we’ve got to improve on,” Boeckman said. “I try to put the kids through high stress situations in practice, try to you know imitate what I can out here on the game. That way when they get in a very stressful high situation like that they don't make a mistake. But, when you rush and you're stressed out those mistakes occur.”
Momentum looked to switch into the Jays favor in the bottom of the ninth after Alderfer turned a bunt into a Manhattan error fest. Alderfer bunted the ball down the third baseline, feet off the plate. The Manhattan pitcher over threw the first baseman allowing Alderfer to use his speed to reach third before Boeckman sent him home on a bad throw from the outfield.
“He's a player I picked up two years ago — great kid, great parents, great athlete,” Boeckman said. “As a coach I have to somehow utilize ways to use that speed. He's a good hitter too, but in that situation … he bunted and got in the park home run. Because speed like that forces the players to speed up their motion. And then they made mistakes too, just like we did. So, speed kills. That's what I tell my boys, 'Speed kills.’”
Harris and Neal scored to pull the Jays within two runs before Manhattan closed out the game with a force out at second to defeat the Jays 13-11.
The weekend tournament was different, of sorts, for the 11U Jays. They were playing against both 11U and 12U teams — playing up as you will — to motivate the players for next season and to show them they can compete against older teams.
“There's two 12U teams in this tournament, that are very good,” Boeckman said. “And we've played one of them before. We knew that we were going to see some serious competition. And to be honest, this was kind of like just a fun practice game because state is over. With this COVID stuff that's why we've had this (tournament) late in the year. Otherwise it wouldn't be like this. I wanted to see my kids will come out and compete, because we have no reason really to do anything — we already took second, the year is over. But, I wanted to see if they would compete, and that's the thing — they competed, every pitch, every inning. So, that's what I'm happy about.”
In pool play, the Jays opened the weekend up against Next Level defeating them 15-6 in four innings.
The Jays jumped out early with seven runs crossing the plate.
Manhattan fired back in the second inning with four runners taking the trip around the horn, but the early momentum for the Jays stuck.
Seven more runs crossed in the third as Junction City opened up the commanding 14-4 lead before Next Level scored two in the bottom of the third.
Walker scored the final run in the top of the fourth to give the Jays the 15-6 victory after defense shut down Manhattan in order.
The second game, against Wabaunsee, started slow for the Jays as only one run — Walker — scored in the first inning while the Chargers rolled out two runs to take the early lead.
The Jays took the lead over in the second inning with six runs before adding one in the third to take the 8-2 lead heading into the fourth.
Paolino, Tyren Foust, Bronz Talley and Alderfer scored for the Jays to extend the lead to 10 runs.
Wabaunsee was held to two runs in the bottom of the inning to give the Jays the run-ruled victory and the perfect start to the weekend.
With Sunday’s loss the Jays close out the season 19-7 including the second place finish at the state tournament several weeks ago. They will look at expanding their roster on Aug. 15 as several coaches have combined to form the Junction City Blues Baseball Club in an effort to form competitive traveling teams. Tryouts will take place at North Park for 7U to 14U. More information about the tryouts can be obtained by emailing the club at email@example.com