Sometimes pitches that were called strikes in one series are balls in another. Sometimes hard hits that went for extra bases start finding the outfielder’s glove.
And while all of that could have been said for Tompkins’ baseball team in its Class 6A Region III semifinals against Strake Jesuit, another fact was difficult to accept.
The Crusaders proved to be better.
In what was ultimately a proud and historic campaign for coach Kyle Humphreys’ club, the Falcons fell to Strake Jesuit, 5-2, in Game 3 of their series Saturday afternoon as Tompkins' season came to a close at Cy-Falls High School.
After winning Game 1 on Thursday, 8-1, the Falcons dropped the last two games of the best-of-three series, losing Game 2, 5-1, before falling short in the tiebreaker.
“I think we were a little nervous,” senior shortstop Graiden West said. “It happens. But they did a great job. Their pitching did great. They threw strikes, more strikes than we did, and that’s how you win games.”
Tompkins, generally a prolific, efficient offensive team, was held to 10 hits over the final two games, striking out 12 times and walking four times, as Strake Jesuit starters Andy Leon and Carson Brown pitched admirably.
“The pitching on their behalf was pretty good,” senior second baseman Will Stark said. “They threw their breaking ball over the plate. They threw a three-pitch mix. We hit good enough to win games, but we gave away some walks that shouldn’t have happened and they came up in big situations and hit.”
The Falcons’ pitching, impressive through the first three playoff series, hit a wall.
Humphreys used seven pitchers over the last two games in a desperate attempt to find an answer for the Crusaders’ hard-hitting bats. Strake Jesuit pounded out 19 hits and walked 14 times, striking out 11 times, in its wins.
“Our pitching has been pretty good in the last couple series, but we had some rough innings in this one,” Humphreys said. “We started off and got behind, had to use more pitching than we wanted to. Up until this point, our pitching had done a great job, but we just didn’t seem to have it.”
Nerves. Uncharacteristic subpar hitting and pitching. Whatever the case might have been, it could be as simple as the Falcons, young and precocious, running into a tradition-laden program with a vast amount of experience.
Not only is Strake Jesuit (25-12-1) known for long playoff runs, these Crusaders had 14 seniors dotting the roster. Tompkins had eight, and only two—West and Stark—started.
That in itself made this postseason all the more remarkable for Tompkins. The Falcons weren’t necessarily supposed to be in the fourth round. But they overachieved, thanks to great talent and a close-knit team.
Tompkins finished 32-9-1, besting its previous best in single-season wins by six, and made it to the regional semifinals for the first time.
“It was a great year,” West said. “The first time for a lot of things. We made a good run at it. It feels special to be a part of a great team and great coaches. I’m glad to be part of starting something of a legacy.”
West and Stark have played together since the eighth grade. They first stepped onto Tompkins’ campus four years ago knowing they were the future of the program.
They worked tirelessly to make their mark, and it showed.
“Ever since freshman year, Will and I have been grinding,” West said. “We knew then we’d take over the spots in the middle infield. We’ve been playing together for a while, and used that connection to spark the other guys. It worked until now. But I had a lot of fun.”
Stark said the success of the Falcons and how far they’ve come was a nice surprise.
“I’m really proud of Coach Humphreys and the coaching staff we have here,” Stark said. “To put this season together for us, I’m very grateful. Coach Humphreys did everything in his power for us seniors to make this season perfect and to have an awesome last run.”
Humphreys commended West and Stark for being rocks of a culture that continues to blossom with each season. They were part of a small senior class that was team-oriented and spirited.
“We had eight seniors, whether they were starters or not, that were great teammates,” Humphreys said. “Guys like (pitcher) Sean Brownson coming in and doing a great job when we needed him. All those guys are set up to do great things in the future, whether it’s baseball or not.”
They helped bring Tompkins to a stage it had not known previously. And now it’s up to a slew of gifted youngsters, like Drew Markle, Jace Laviolette, Landon West, Solomon Rotberg, Michael DeBattista, Cash Russell and Ty Dagley, among others, to carry on.
“This is a successful season for us,” Humphreys said. “Thirty-two wins. Fourth round. This was special for our group to get this far. We’ve got a lot of young guys in the dugout, and to be here and know what this feels like is big.”
West and Stark, meanwhile, are left with so much more as they move on to play baseball at Rice and Wichita State, respectively.
“I made a lot of new friends,” West said, “and they’re now my family for life.”
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