Iola packed a season’s worth of tense baseball, thrilling defensive plays, clutch hits — and yes, heartbreak — into the final few innings of its 2021 campaign Friday.
Iola’s A American Legion Indians saw a 4-2 lead dissipate in the top of the seventh before Overbrook scored once in extra innings to take home a 5-4 victory in the final round of the Zone Tournament.
The loss ends Iola’s season one game short of qualifying for state at 23-7.
“It’s tough,” Indians head coach Bob Johnson said. “This is a good group of kids, good baseball players.”
In the end, the most telling part of the game — and to a larger extent, the entire Zone tournament — was that Iola’s potent offense sputtered at key moments.
To wit, Iola was leading 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth, and had runners on first and third after Logan Page doubled and Gavin Page bunted for a base hit.
But the rally largely stalled from there.
Iola scored a run on Brandon McKarnin’s fielder’s choice, but Overbrook pitcher Luke Edward induced a pop fly and strikeout to prevent further damage.
“I knew once we only got one run, it was going to be tough,” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, Iola’s Trevor Church did what staff aces do for much of a warm, muggy night.
He kept Overbrook at bay through the first 6 2/3 innings, but a single and double set up runners at second and third with one out.
A ground-out back to the pitcher brought home the runner from third, making it 4-3, before Overbrook’s Brody Gleason delivered the hit of the game.
He smacked a 1-0 pitch to the left-field gap, where outfielders Sam Hull and Landon Weide both dove from opposite directions in an attempt to catch the fly ball. They narrowly avoided colliding, but also missed on a spectacular catch.
By the time the dust settled, Gleason was standing on third with a triple, and the score was tied.
Church ended the threat with a fly ball to center, but in so doing, reached his pitch limit for the game.
Korbin Cloud came on in relief, and allowed one hit in the eighth inning, after an Indian error let Overbrook’s leadoff batter on base.
Trent Leichter tripled to the wall at center field, but Iola’s Gavin Page uncorked a perfect relay throw to home, where catcher Rogan Weir tagged out the Overbrook runner attempting to score.
The game was still tied, but not for long.
Cloud jumped ahead of Overbrook’s Chad Robert with two quick strikes, but Robert’s subsequent fly ball to left was deep enough to allow Sleichter to score the tie-breaking run.
Iola’s Carter Hutton worked a two-out walk in the bottom of the inning, but that was all Edward allowed as he struck out the other three Indian batters in the frame to complete the win.
“We pitched well,” Johnson said. “We made a few errors, which was uncharacteristic. That’s a good team over there. They have some good hitters.”
Overbrook, which features players from the Santa Fe Trail school district and other communities, will advance to the state tournament in Salina next week.
Iola led for much of the night, but also will look back on a number of missed opportunities that could have extended its advantage.
Iola jumped in front, 1-0, in the bottom of the first, but also missed out on a chance for more. Hutton walked and Holden Barker ripped a double to put runners on second and third with one out. McKarnin’s sac fly brought Hutton home, but a ground ball ended the scoring threat.
The Indians also failed to capitalize on a pair of walks in the second, and had a runner thrown out at third to end the third.
Overbrook knotted the score in the top of the third.
Leadoff walks to Korbin Cloud and Church to lead off Iola’s fourth set up Rogan Weir for a run-scoring double, but Overbrook was able to throw out courtesy runner Brings Michael at third on the play.
Gavin Page ripped a two-out single to score Weir to make it 3-1.
Overbrook closed the gap to 3-2 in the top of the fifth with, of all things, a dropped third strike with two outs.
Then, Iola was unable to score despite drawing four walks in the fifth, after one of the baserunners was thrown out attempting to steal.
“It just seemed like all week we couldn’t get two or three hits back-to-back,” Johnson said. “We’d get a hit and then a popup or strikeout. A lot of that was because of their pitching.”
Church struck out six and walked one for Iola.
Barker, Weir and Logan Page each had doubles for the Indians, while Gavin Page singled twice. McKarnin and Hull added singles.
“We had a good season,” Johnson said.
But sometimes, he noted, the “baseball gods” intervene, turning a potential season-saving victory into heartbreak.