Nathan Gaarder did his best to muscle his Doniphan County team to a come-from-behind victory in the semifinal of the American Legion State tournament on Saturday morning, but his 125th pitch of the day turned out to be the last of the season.
Taking on the Russell squad for the second time in four days at Dave Ragen Stadium at the LaRoche Baseball Complex in Fort Scott, Gaarder fueled Doniphan County’s offense and pitched a strong game into extra innings where the team fell just short of an appearance in the state title game. With the bases loaded and two out in the eighth inning, a soft liner to left pushed across the winning run for Russell, ending Doniphan County’s season with a 6-5 loss.
Doniphan struck first in the game, putting together a two-out rally in the third inning. Reid Greaser took a walk with two down, followed by a Cuttar Huss single. With runners at the corners, Gaarder slammed a double that scored one, followed up by a Wil Smith walk. A Tucker Morris single and wild pitch plated Huss and Gaarder, giving Doniphan County a 3-0 lead.
On the mound, Gaarder cruised through the early innings, no-hitting Russell through three, before running into trouble in the fourth and fifth. Russell managed six of their nine total hits in those two innings, compounded by Doniphan County committing three errors in the three-run fifth, to put Russell ahead 5-3.
After the rough fifth inning, the Doniphan County squad began to claw their way back into the game, notching a run in each of the next two innings. Smith, who went 1-for-2 on the day with two walks, got aboard on an infield single to lead off the sixth, moved around the bases and scored on a Brody Winder sacrifice fly to center. Tyler Franken, pinch hitting for Hunter Idol, lined a single to center to start off the seventh, and came around to score when Gaarder crushed a double over the center fielder’s head and off the base of the wall to tie the game.
Entering the eighth, Doniphan County appeared to have seized momentum, but a Cade Wendt single with two outs was all the team could muster in the top of the inning, leaving Russell needing only one run to take the game. After a walk, an error and an intentional walk loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the eighth, Gaarder induced two ground ball outs, and nearly had the hopeless situation handled, before Russell’s Mason Beagley lofted a ball into the gap in left field, scoring the walk-off win.
Gaarder’s line on the mound was five runs (four earned) on nine hits, and eight strikeouts. At the plate, Gaarder was 2-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored. Greaser took a pair of walks and scored a run, Huss went 1-4 with a run scored, and Morris went 2-4 on the day, knocking in one.
Russell’s walk-off win evened the score between the two teams in the tournament, as Doniphan County had knocked them out of the winner’s bracket in the first round with a 3-2 win. The loss leaves Doniphan’s record at 31-4 on the season, after they took down Russell and Fort Scott to start the tournament, and dropped Friday night’s game to Larned. Russell, who beat the same Fort Scott squad to reach the semifinal, lost to Larned in the championship game.