Iola ends season in regional final
This wasn’t supposed to be how it ends.
And the look on the Iola players’ faces walking off the field reflected the sadness, shock and disbelief after Tonganoxie rung up the final out in the 4A regional title game Tuesday night in Iola.
The Mustangs looked somewhat sharp earlier in the day in their 3-1 victory over Bishop Miege in the semifinal game. But in the title game, the Chieftains had an answer for everything the Mustangs threw their way. The Mustangs went down 8-5, ending the season at 14-2.
“It’s just disappointing,” head coach Mark Percy said. “We got beat by a good team. I don’t know if they’re going to win state, but they played really well and we didn’t. We didn’t pitch well, we didn’t play well in the field and we couldn’t score. I don’t know how that happens. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t and tonight, we didn’t.”
It’s been an odd season for the Mustangs. Bad weather dogged them. In the past month they’ve been able to play only one of six scheduled home games.
The Mustangs had the potential to be great and yet they never were given the opportunity to find their footing.
“I don’t want to make excuses, but I think with us not playing much at the end of the year, we’ve been rusty,” Percy said. “Last year we played all of our games and got on a roll. This year it just hasn’t felt like a cohesive season and a lot of things go into that. But in the end, there isn’t a whole lot to say because we just got outplayed.”
And when you play only the weaker teams, that rust doesn’t show nearly as much as when you play a veteran, battle-tested team like Tonganoxie.
The Chieftains were fresh off of a win over Baldwin where they jumped out to a 7-0 lead and then had to walk-off and win 11-10 in the seventh-inning.
They came in with all of the momentum in the world and showed it by opening the game with a walk, a two-run homer and a double before Iola managed to record its first out of the game.
The Mustangs got out of that inning without any more harm done and then seemed to take control.
Iola got right to work, scoring two runs on a Brady Wiggin single and two batters later scoring two more runs on a single by Kane Rogers.
Tonganoxie pulled their pitcher after the first inning and sent Cooper Cunningham to the mound. Cunningham threw five scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and a walk. Iola had zero answers for him and meanwhile, their pitchers and defense were getting beat up.
Starter Cal Leonard made it through three innings before getting pulled and sophomore Nathan Louk got through the next inning and a third, allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk. Louk would get saddled with the loss and it wouldn’t be until Calvin Delich took over in the fifth that things started to calm down for the Mustangs.
“We tell our guys that it all starts with pitching and defense and today we weren’t as good as we can be,” Percy said. “And that’s again where the weather hurt us. In practice, if we had guys getting ready to play, we’d have them pitch 20 pitches in practice instead of a full game load. But then we wouldn’t play. So we were never building their pitch count up and you just can’t get consistency that way. I hate excuses but I’ve been doing this a long time.”
Tonganoxie took the lead back in the fourth and pushed it to three in the fifth. They added a final insurance run in the seventh before Iola got its chance at a rally.
The Mustangs loaded the bases with no outs but only managed to get a run out of it before the Chieftain closer got the final out of the game.
Rogers and Wiggin ended the night with two hits each.
TUESDAY’S GAME was the swan song for the four Mustang seniors led by the 2018 4A-II Pitcher of the Year in Derek Bycroft. They also lose key contributors Blake Ashmore and Kane Rogers along with Hunter Baughn.
“They’re just great leaders,” Percy said. “They’ve been big for us, for sure. And more than that, they’re just great people. When you’ve coached as long as I have, you learn that you build relationships with these guys and it’s hard to lose a senior that’s here for four years because it feels like they should be here all of the time. We’re going to miss them and someone is going to have to step in.”
Despite what they lose, Iola returns a bevy of talent next year led by the trio of Delich, Wiggin and Leonard. Add in a junior varsity team that lost just one game last season and it’s extremely plausible that the Mustangs will find themselves in good standing again come this time next year.
“We’re going to be good again,” Percy said. “And we’ll see how far we can get. It’s crazy with this game sometimes, you just never know.”