The Midwest Mustangs picked up a 3-0 win over the Sioux Fall Cyclones White in the semifinals before falling 8-2 to Prairie Gravel in the championship game of the AABC Big Stick 16-Under Challenge on Sunday at Wendell Redden Stadium.
Midwest, a ball club made up of 10 players from southeast Kansas and Nevada (Mo.), went 5-1 on the week en route to its runner-up finish.
“We played good baseball and did a great job,” Mustangs coach Cole Sanderson said. “I love this team. They play the right way, execute and work hard. The only way a team like ours, with 10 local guys, could compete against a team like (Prairie Gravel) is to play flawless baseball. And that’s what we’ve been trying to push.”
Chicago-based Prairie Gravel totaled just five hits on the Mustangs in the title game but managed to plate three runs in the third inning, four in the fifth and one in the sixth. Prairie Gravel also benefitted from nine free passes and three Midwest errors.
Prairie Gravel starting pitcher Easton Richter, reliever Ysen Useni and closer Charlie Smith combined to limit the Mustangs to just three hits. Richter struck out nine batters in four complete innings before Useni fanned four in two innings and Smith fanned one in one inning.
“When you throw strikes and you field the ball well, you’re going to have a good chance,” Prairie Gravel coach Dave Ryans said. “And then we put the ball in play. That’s basically what our philosophy is. We work off our pitchers throwing strikes, our defense making plays, and then we’ll make something happen at the plate.”
Prairie Gravel plated the first three runs of the game before Midwest got on the scoreboard with two runs in the bottom of the third. Wyatt Foley of Girard led off the frame with a single and eventually scored from third on a wild pitch, and then Logan Myers of Frontenac walked before crossing home plate on a fielding error to trim the deficit to 3-2.
However, the Mustangs managed just two hits and no runs the rest of the way as Prairie Gravel plated five unanswered.
“We missed some opportunities at the plate, but you have to tip your cap to their pitchers for what they were able to do,” Sanderson said. “They just executed well and stayed at the knees with their pitches. They were pounding low in the zone and not really giving us a chance, and they were working at a fast pace and didn’t give us a chance to capitalize on mistakes.”
Foley went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles while Case Sanderson of Nevada went 1-for-3 with one walk and a double.
For Prairie Gravel, Joey Little had two two-run singles in three plate appearances. James Martin had one single, one walk and three RBI in four trips to the plate.
In the Mustangs’ shutout win over Sioux Falls White, Columbus product Seth Stover surrendered just four hits and struck out two in six innings of work. Midwest also went blemish-free in the field.
Midwest drew first blood in the bottom of the third when it plated two runs on a pair of hits. Sanderson accounted for both of the runs on a hard-hit single through the middle.
Sanderson, who finished 2-for-3, also capped the scoring for Midwest in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI single to center field. The Mustangs finished with four hits as a team.
“Timely hitting and solid execution with our bunts and base stealing really put us in a good spot in that first game,” Sanderson said. “And again, we did a great job pitching. Seth stayed low in the zone and executed. He wasn’t totally sharp early on, but he battled through and really started to hit his stride by the third or fourth inning.”
Nathan Babb, Griffin Wilde, Jaxsen Grevengoed and Beau Giblin had one hit apiece foe Sioux Falls.
Wilde tossed seven complete innings and surrendered three runs on four hits while striking out three.