The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

May 23, 2012

Pittsburg riding 10-game winning streak into Class 4A baseball state tournament

The Pittsburg Purple Dragons struggled through the midway point of their schedule.

The Dragons hit the 11-game mark just a game over .500 and struggling to put everything together.

They have since found their way.

Pittsburg has won 10 straight games. The Dragons face Mulvane on Friday in the first round of the Class 4A state baseball tournament at Dean Evans Stadium in Salina.

“We’ve come a long ways,” said coach Mike Wilbert, who is in the final season of a 35-year career at Pittsburg. “We were sitting at 6-5 and not playing the kind of baseball we’re used to at Pittsburg High School.

“We definitely played our best baseball through the regional tournament. And that’s the whole key when you get to regionals and state. If you can get hot and stretch some wins together, anything can happen.”

The Dragons won seven straight to end the regular season and then won three regional games — including a 9-3 victory over Baxter Springs in the title game — to clinch their first state trip since 2008.

They’ll face a 20-3 Mulvane team that is making its third trip to state in the last four seasons and is led by a pair of ace pitchers. Austin Duncan (0.81 ERA) and Connor Dempsey (0.85) are a combined 11-1 with 75 strikeouts.

No Wildcat pitcher has allowed a home run this season.

“They have a pretty good history of being in the state tournament,” Wilbert said. “They have several guys who can throw it, including a couple of really good pitchers. They have kids who are used to winning.”

Broc Bennett and Jack Wimmer are Pittsburg’s go-to pitchers. The duo combined to hold a hot-hitting Baxter Springs team to three runs on six hits in the regional final.

Wilbert said pair allows a combined average of two walks per game. Bennett will get the start on Friday.

“We play a lot of doubleheaders in Kansas and those two have been my starters for just about every one,” Wilbert said. “They do a good job of throwing strikes and not putting guys on base. They force other teams to put the ball into play and use sacrifice bunts to get runners over.

“They’re both capable and the both do a good job of using their defense behind them, which has been pretty solid all year.”

Wilbert said the first five hitters in the lineup — Wimmer, Spencer Bernhardt, Nick Vacca, Brandon Baker and Dylan Gromer — have been hitting all season.

Wimmer and Vacca boast averages around the .400 mark. Baker was a double shy of the cycle in the regional title game. Gromer is a baseball-savvy catcher who has signed to play at Independence (Kan.) Community College.

“Those first five guys have played well pretty much all year,” Wilbert said. “The big difference lately is we’re getting production from everyone in the lineup and that has allowed us to be a threat to score in any inning.”

Wilbert announced earlier this month that he would retire at the end of the season.

“It has been a pleasure coaching these kids,” he said. “They worked hard to improve and were willing to do the things they needed to do for us to get here.”

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