TOPEKA — A rain delay cut short any hope of a comeback for the Junction City Brigade (21-15), which lost by a final score of 9-0 in four and a half innings to the Topeka Golden Giants (22-11-1) in the Cowdin Cup Championship game.
"(Sophomore pitcher Josh) Mapel went out there and really struggled. We're at the point where if we don't get a good quality start from a starting pitcher, we don't have enough depth in the bullpen. We needed a lot more out of Josh, and he just couldn't give it to us," Brigade head coach Seth Wheeler said. "The rain delay, that just stinks for Topeka. Getting the last out in the championship is a pretty cool moment. To not be able to do that is just too bad."
Mapel got the start for the Brigade on Saturday night, and struggled. He allowed five runs and no hits while failing to record a strikeout. He hit three batters in his brief starting appearance. Mapel was replaced in the top of the first inning by Daniel Bachura, who allowed three runs and two hits while failing to strike out a batter. Freshman pitcher Kamden Miller replaced Bachura in the first inning, allowing one run and five hits while striking out one batter in a little over three innings of work.
"(Miller) was good. That's what Kam's done all year. He comes in and puts out fires and gives us quality innings. He's just a young guy. He's got a lot of career ahead of him. Hopefully he continues doing what he's doing," Wheeler said.
The Brigade struggled on offense on Saturday night. Junction City was only able to collect three hits. Sophomore outfielder Tyler Bracht got two hits. Freshman catcher Matt Westphal got one hit on Saturday.
"(Topeka) threw a pretty good arm. (Topeka starting pitcher Zach Ebert) is one of the better guys all year in the league. He's 6-0 and competed every single day. He's got three pitches that he throws for strikes. That's tough in this league. Our best bet is to pitch-count a guy like that and get him out. With the rain, we didn't really have a chance," Wheeler said.
This loss ends the season for the Brigade. The team overcame a five game losing streak in the middle of June to come within half-a-game of first place in the West Division of the Mid-Plains League at the end of the regular season. In the playoffs, the Brigade defeated one of the best teams in the Mid-Plains League in the Midwest A's in three games to advance to its second-straight Cowdin Cup Championship series. Unfortunately, the Brigade could not finish the season with a win.
"Obviously when you get to the championship of anything, it's a pretty good season. With the talent level that we have, I think we achieved about as well as we could have possibly hoped. Topeka's been a better team all year. They beat us four out of six during the regular season. I thought we did a good job just getting them to game three," Wheeler said.
Saturday night did not just mean the end of the Brigade's 2017 season. It also marked the final time that some of Junction City's seniors will suit up for the Brigade. Senior outfielder Cole Brecheisen ended his Brigade career after Saturday night's loss.
"It just sucks that this is how (Brecheisen) goes out. He's had a great career. He's done us well and we really appreciate him. Whatever he chooses to do after baseball, he's going to be successful. He was a leader for us all year. He took a lot of guys under his wing, like (freshman pitcher) Charlie (Peyla) and made an impact on them, which is pretty cool," Wheeler said.
Brecheisen took some time after Saturday night's loss to reflect on his last season with the Brigade.
"It sucks, but it's been probably one of my best summers here. (What made it memorable) was knowing that it was going to be my last summer playing. Just coming out every day trying to have fun. (The loss) just kind of sucks," Brecheisen said.
While the Brigade have some great players leaving, the 2017 summer showed that there is a lot of freshman talent that may be returning next year. Guys like Peyla, freshman catcher Matt Westphal, freshman catcher Andrew Morrow, freshman infielder Tim Bell, and freshman pitcher Jacob Uhing all had very good first seasons with the Brigade. Wheeler noted that he's not sure how many young players could be coming back next summer.
"You never know what happens with guys coming back. You'd like to have as many guys as possible back, but it just doesn't always happen. You'd like to have the local kids back, but you never know. If they get an opportunity to go somewhere cool, you can't deny them that opportunity," Wheeler said.