The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

May 16, 2012

Pittsburg finds offense, beats Baxter Springs in Class 4A district baseball final

PITTSBURG, Kan. — The Pittsburg Purple Dragons were comfortable with their defensive game heading into the Class 4A regional.

It was at the plate where they wanted to step up, so they shifted their practice routine and took a few more hacks.

It paid off Wednesday.

The top-seeded Dragons rapped 12 hits and rolled past second-seeded Baxter Springs 9-3 at JayCee Ballpark, clinching a trip to the state tournament in Salina.

“We’ve been practicing hitting a lot,” said senior Brandon Baker, who finished 3-for-4 with a triple and a solo home run. “We kind of laid off defense for a while because we’re pretty solid there. We just kept hitting, hitting, hitting and it’s been working.”

Pittsburg built scored five straight runs after Baxter Springs scored a lone run in the top of the first.

The Lions got a leadoff double from Zak Himes and an RBI groundout from Trey Price to cut the Dragon lead to 5-2 in the top of the fourth, but Pittsburg answered in a big way.

After the Dragons scored a run on an error, senior Broc Bennett laced a three-run double into right-center to stretch the lead to 9-2.

“It was outside and low and I kind of just threw my bat at it and tried to get contact and I hit it right into the gap,” Bennett said. “It was definitely a big moment in the game.”

Bennett also got the win on the mound, allowing three runs on five hits while striking out three in five innings.

“They’re known as a good hitting ball club, they make solid contact all the way down the lineup so it was nice to hold them to three runs,” he said. “I was just trying mix and match locations and off-speed stuff. … I think I was able to keep them off balance most of the night.”

Baxter Springs senior Austin Karnes, who was the team’s top hitter, was relegated to just one pinch-hit at bat after he suffered a leg injury in Monday’s semifinal. The Lions finished the season at 14-7.

The Pittsburg win sends head coach Mike Wilbert to the state tournament in his final year with the Dragons. He announced earlier in the season that we was stepping down after 35 years with the school.

“This is special,” he said. “We didn’t start off very good but we’ve gotten consistently better. We’re at the point where we expect to make plays now and that’s what it’s all about: confidence in whatever you’re doing.”

Wilbert said he is especially seeing that confidence at the plate, where the Dragons struck out just twice on Wednesday.

“We’ve worked hard at getting our hands above the ball and getting line drives and not hitting a fly ball. All that work is paying off,” he said. “The high school baseball season … it’s only eight weeks. You can’t get all this stuff figured out in the first few games. As we see more pitchers and understand the game more, the better we’ve gotten.”

Spencer Bernhardt was 3-for-4 for the Dragons with a double, two RBI and a run scored.

Baker’s home run, which led off the third and sailed over the left-center wall, was the first home run hit at spacious JayCee Ballpark for Pittsburg this season.

“They’ve all been on the road,” Baker said. “But I knew this one was out. I started jogging when I left the plate.”

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