Community’s willpower overruns fatigue, Northland Christian in 5-1 playoff win

By Jeremy Jacob, Sports Editor
Posted 5/24/23

Community R-6 is playing extra baseball this year and needed something extra in its playoff game on Monday.

Mexico vs Northland Christian Photo Gallery

The Trojans traveled the extra …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Community’s willpower overruns fatigue, Northland Christian in 5-1 playoff win


Community R-6 is playing extra baseball this year and needed something extra in its playoff game on Monday.

Mexico vs Northland Christian Photo Gallery

The Trojans traveled the extra distance of three hours to the Creekside Baseball Complex in Parkville to face Northland Christian, who needed a 14-minute commute, in the Class 1 state tournament. They battled through to defeat the Trailblazers 5-1 to earn the right to a home game at 5 p.m. Wednesday against Sacred Heart (20-9), who defeated Leeton (18-6) 7-4 at Creekside on Monday.

Head coach Joel Krato said his players might have been fatigued after such a long trip, but the experienced team that contains four seniors had the will for victory against Northland Christian’s team of only two upperclassmen. Case in point, senior No. 1 pitcher Gavin Allen finished with a season-low six strikeouts in a start as the Trailblazers teed off on three hard-hit balls in the first inning that turned into a shutout frame thanks to the Trojan defense.

“We made a lot of mistakes and not once did I think that it looked like we were done fighting,” Krato said. “I don’t think (Gavin) threw anywhere near his best game. I think the three-hour bus ride affected him, but if you were out there watching, that was him competing his tail off. I never saw my kids show any emotion out there, and I’ve been bashing them for three years, this year included, that you can not because everyone else is watching you. If you look defeated, everyone else looks defeated.”

Krato said Allen didn’t have the same velocity and wasn’t attracting the same calls on the edges of the strike zone but did a nice job of using his defense. Despite serving up a leadoff double to Aidan Dunagan, who finished 3-for-3 with three extra-base hits, the Trojans (18-5) scrambled to throw him out trying to stretch the hit into a triple as senior third baseman Pacey Cope ran him down in the baseline. Later in the inning, Allen’s pitch bounced past catcher Eli Johnson with a runner at third base, and rather than taking the small loss with the run scoring, Johnson corralled the ball before tossing it to Allen for the tag and out at the plate.

Johnson caught Dunagan trying to steal third base after his second double to prop up Allen, who was relieved by Mason Carroll in the sixth inning with two runners on and two outs after allowing five hits in 5⅔ innings.

“I wasn’t throwing my hardest and I wasn’t locating my offspeeds for strikes,” Allen said. “They did hit some balls off the barrel that got some extra-base hits, but I also got them off-balance a little bit with my fastball and made our defense go to work and make some good plays too. We will take advantage of their mistakes. We capitalized on it today with their baserunning mistakes, which basically led to a 5-1 win for us.”

In contrast, Community took advantage of its work on the basepaths as Brant Cope reached on a two-base error in the second inning before eventually scoring on a Mason Rohan groundout. The Trojans tacked on another run when Johnson singled home senior Tucker Cox, who finished 2-for-2 with two runs and an RBI.

Cox has served as the No. 9 hitter as of late for Community, but it wasn’t too long ago that he wasn’t hitting at all. Krato recalls a 6-5 loss early in the season against Clopton when Cox struck out four times, and for a while, has been used in the outfield but with a designated hitter taking his spot in the batting order. Cox has been a regular part of the lineup since the regular season finale and has gone 5-for-12 with five RBI and five runs scored in five games after only recording 14 at-bats prior this stretch.

“That’s a kid who wasn’t even batting 90 percent of the time in the season and then just put him in because I got a gut feeling,” Krato said. “In the postseason, you’ve got to be able to get bunts down and you’ve got to be able to run, and he does those things well.”

Following Carroll’s escape act in the sixth inning that left the bases loaded for Northland Christian (16-8) with a 2-1 Community lead, the Trojans added more in the next inning.

“I was nervous,” Allen said. “I’m sure he was too. But whenever Carroll goes up, you just got to trust him, and we’ve got a good defense behind him still. He’ll throw strikes, and they’ll put it in play. If they don’t, good for us.”

It was Cox again coming through the big hit up the middle to give the Trojans an insurance run. In the playoffs, he has been that nice piece of insurance for the offense to turn the lineup over.

“I just couldn’t think about it too hard,” Cox said. “Beginning of the season, I just thought about it way too much and got in my own head a lot. I’m like, ‘We won districts for a reason, and I’m here for a reason.’ That just gave me a lot more confidence at the plate.”

Cox wasn’t done as Gavin Allen legged out an infield hit for an RBI that made the score 4-1 and soon after 5-1 as Cox came sliding headfirst as senior Ayden Meranda stayed in a rundown between second and third base. 

“Krato told me to start creeping toward home and see if we could steal home,” Cox said. “Luckily, we were able to get that play down, and that was a really important play in the game.”

Krato said Cox stealing a run in the seventh inning wasn’t planned, but the Trojans do plan to “play for one run” as long as their two formidable arms are on the mound. Dunagan’s RBI triple in the sixth inning snapped a 19⅓ innings scoreless streak for Community, which built a big enough cushion thanks partially to advancing runners on plays like bunts from Pacey Cope, Rohan and Shane Woodson. 

“At the end of the day, we just outexecuted,” Krato said. “That’s why we have, I want to say, the hardest practices you can find. It is hard to practice on the field. If you make a mistake, you’re going to hear about it, you’re going to get chewed on and you’re going to do it until you do it right.”