HAYS — When assembling a team, a coach wants to have the best of the best on the roster.
Anthony Markowitz had his 13 best players on this summer’s Post 5 AAA Legion baseball team.
On Saturday, Post 5 needed every single one of them to help win the Class AA/AAA State Tournament at Larks Park.
Emporia needed to go 11 innings in its semifinal against Iola where Jace Stewart’s walk-off single gave his team a 3-2 win and sent Post 5 to face Hays in the championship game. There, Post 5 rallied from a three-run deficit to claim the title, 7-5, over the Eagles.
The victory over Hays is the first AAA state championship for Post 5 since 2011. Eight of the 13 players on this summer’s team claimed their second state championship after being a part of the 2017 Class A State Championship team.
“It was a pretty great weekend for these guys,” Markowitz said. “We were up and down. Fortunately, we were really good there in the fifth and sixth innings (against Hays). Guys came up with some big hits. It’s how the year has been going for them. It’s taking the mentality to get to the next guy and a lot of guys got on base.
“It’s good to have (the state championship) coming back to Emporia. I’m really proud of them and how they competed. (I) couldn’t ask for a much better group to coach.”
After going 2-1 in pool play over the first three days of the tournament, Post 5 had to wait to see if it would be playing on Saturday. When Hays claimed a 14-7 victory over Great Bend on Friday night, Emporia got a second chance to prove itself.
“We needed some things to happen that were out of our hands,” Markowitz said. “Once our guys found out that they were given another chance, that’s all they needed. It juiced our guys up. They took full advantage of it.”
The championship game pitted Emporia and Hays — two teams that had one win against each other.
Hays struck first in the top of the first inning on a 2-run double by Brady Kreutzer. Emporia responded in the home half with a 2-run single by Sawyer Slayden.
Hays tacked on two in the fourth on a fielder’s choice by Tate Garcia and an RBI single from Cody Peterson. Kreutzer made it 5-2 in the fifth with an RBI double.
Emporia then began to chip away in a hurry. Post 5 made it a one-run game in the bottom of the fifth with Beau Baumgardner’s 2-run home run — his second of the summer.
Slayden drew a lead-off walk in the bottom of the sixth, yet Post 5 found itself with two away and none aboard. That didn’t stop Emporia from producing a two-out rally.
An infield single by Cade Kohlmeier, followed by a walk and a single loaded the bases for Hayden Baumwart.
With one swing of the bat against Hays’ Palmer Hutchison, Baumwart doubled in three runs, but was out trying to extend it into a triple. Post 5 gained the lead and were three outs away from a state championship.
“(Saturday) and (Friday), I was getting walked,” Baumwart said. “I was telling Jace in the dugout, ‘I just want a ball that I can drive.’ I missed my opportunity earlier in the game and I knew I had to come up with one (with a new pitcher entering). I’ve been dreaming about that situation since I was a little kid.”
In the seventh, Stewart allowed a single by Kretuzer, but was able to retire the next three batters — two strikeouts and a flyout — to seal the championship.
“We were thinking in our heads the whole tournament that it was going to be us and Hays in the championship,” Stewart said. “We had to battle for it and we came out on top. It was nice being up there and watching that ball go by (Hays’ William Sennett) looking, that was the coolest thing of my life. Just looking at Beau and knowing we were state champs.”
Skyler Beatty pitched the first 4.1 innings, allowing five runs on five hits with four strikeouts against a Hays team that had scored 10 or more runs in eight of its last nine contests. Stewart earned the win in relief of Beatty, allowing two hits and fanning three.
“(Skyler) came out and competed in the zone,” Markowitz said. “They scored four runs on him, but look at what Hays did all weekend and how they hit the ball. Skyler held them to four and Jace closing the door was pretty special.”
Kohlmeier and Stewart each went 2-for-3 at the plate.
In its semifinal against Iola, Emporia got its first two runs in the second. Kohlmeier scored on an error and Baumgardner drew a bases-loaded walk. Iola knotted things at two in the fourth on a 2-run single.
After that, the game turned into a pitching duel between Iola’s Derek Bycroft and Baumwart. Byrcroft went seven innings before being replaced and Baumwart threw 8.1 innings.
Emporia had runners aboard in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th innings, but left them all stranded. In the 11th, Slayden led the inning off with a single and two batters later, Stewart drove him in with a single.
Kohlmeier relieved Baumwart and allowed two walks and had one strikeout over the final 2.2 innings, earning the win.
Slayden and Baumgardner each had two hits.
Post 5 (34-2) will travel to Hastings, Nebraska for the American Legion Mid South Regional. Emporia opens up the double-elimination tournament against Fetus Post 253 out of Missouri at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
“Our guys just get another chance to go play, represent the state and Emporia baseball,” Markowitz said. “They’re not only good baseball players, but they’re great kids. We’re just going to take the approach of going up there and having fun and seeing if we can win some games.”