During his three-sport career at Valley Center, 2007 grad Matt Robertson never experienced the thrill of reaching a state tournament.
Some 15 years later, in his third season back at his alma mater as the head baseball coach, Robertson finally got a taste of what it was like on Tuesday when the Hornets won a Class 5A regional championship to advance to next week’s Kansas high school state baseball tournament.
It will be the first state appearance for Valley Center since 2010. The Hornets (16-6) will learn the state seeding for the 5A tournament at Eck Stadium in Wichita later this week.
“None of us have ever had this kind of feeling before, including me,” Robertson said. “This is a new feeling for all of us and our guys are so excited and they deserve to have this feeling because they’ve put in the work all year. We’ve got a group of guys who have bought into a system and bought into a mindset and I couldn’t ask for any more from them than that.”
It was far from an easy route to the state tournament, as Valley Center had to survive a 1-0 pitcher’s duel against a 12-win Newton team in the opening round of the regional hosted at Maize South. But senior ace Payton Graham was up for the challenge, as he threw a complete game shutout and Grant Lehnherr provided the game’s only run on a sacrifice fly.
In the championship game against higher-seeded Maize South, two more seniors, Alex Gillig and Brett Turner, combined to shut down an explosive Maize South offense in a 7-1 victory.
On offense, Valley Center has had plenty of contributions up and down the lineup from players like Hank Welu, Caleb Saner, Zack Romig, Nash Crosby, Jacob Rutschman and Easton Boone. Robertson said the seven-player senior class that features Graham, Gillig, Crosby, Lehnherr, Austin Walker, Turner and Romig have been crucial to the team’s success this season.
“Our guys came out and they were on a mission today,” Robertson said. “They knew what they needed to do and they came out and played Hornet baseball. That’s something we’ve preached all year is playing Hornet baseball: staying within ourselves, being who we are and focusing on the things we can control. They went out there and executed that perfectly.”
In Class 6A, Derby punched its ticket back to the state tournament in fashion with two shutouts, a 5-0 win over Wichita East and a 10-0 win over Topeka, on its home field. The Panthers advance with a 16-6 record.
In the Washburn Rural regional, Campus was able to advance to the finals after a 6-4 win over Garden City but the Colts’ season came to an end with a 5-0 loss to host Washburn Rural in the title game.
In Class 5A, Maize (13-8) saw its season end in stunning fashion in a 1-0 loss to Hays in one of the most difficult regionals in the state hosted by Topeka Seaman.
The Class 4A regionals provided some of the biggest upsets of the day, as No. 16 seed Andale-Garden Plain knocked off No. 1 seed Pratt, 5-2, but lost an 8-7 heartbreaker to Abilene in the regional championship. Meanwhile, No. 13 Clearwater upended No. 4 Buhler, 4-3, in eight innings, but it was No. 12 seed El Dorado who completed the Cinderella run with a 5-2 win over No. 5 seed Circle, then a 12-2 victory over Clearwater in the championship game.
In Class 3A, Halstead capitalized on its home-field advantage by knocking off No. 1 seed Southeast of Saline, 8-3, in the semifinals after escaping with a 4-3 victory in the first round over Hesston. In the finals on Wednesday, Halstead defeated Haven 11-2 to advance to state with a 15-8 record.
In Class 2-1A, Remington stunned No. 1 seed Sedgwick with a 6-2 victory in the semifinals, then completed its run to the state tournament with an 8-5 win over Marion. The Broncos advance to state with a 15-7 record.
Kansas high school baseball regional game scores
Derby 5, Wichita East 0
Topeka 4, Liberal 3
Derby 10, Topeka 0
Washburn Rural regional
Washburn Rural 11, Wichita North 1
Campus 6, Garden City 4
Washburn Rural 5, Campus 0
Topeka Seaman regional
Hays 1, Maize 0
Maize South regional
Maize South 5, Salina South 3
Valley Center 1, Newton 0
Valley Center 7, Maize South 1
Andale-Garden Plain 5, Pratt 2
Abilene 3, Mulvane 2
Abilene 8, Andale-Garden Plain 7
McPherson 16, Rose Hill 1
Lyons 12, Ulysses 8
McPherson 11, Lyons 1
Clearwater 4, Buhler 3 (8 innings)
El Dorado 5, Circle 2
El Dorado 12, Clearwater 2
Nickerson 6, Smoky Valley 3
Southeast of Saline 15, Nickerson 1
Halstead 4, Hesston 3
Haven 12, Council Grove 2
Hillsboro 5, Minneapolis 1
Halstead 8, Southeast of Saline 3
Haven 8, Hillsboro 0
Halstead 11, Haven 2
Wichita Collegiate regional
Wichita Collegiate 11, Chaparral 0
Cheney 10, Kingman 3
Douglass 5, Eureka 2
Wichita Trinity 3, Fredonia 0
Wichita Collegiate 8, Cheney 2
Wichita Trinity 13, Douglass 4
Burden-Central 10, Cedar Vale-Dexter 0
Bluestem 13, Oxford 6
West Elk 15, Flinthills 0
Sedan 13, Udall 4
Sedgwick 5, Moundridge 0
Remington 4, Medicine Lodge 2
Marion 7, Belle Plaine 5
Inman 2, Pratt Skyline 1
Remington 6, Sedgwick 2
Marion 19, Inman 4
Remington 8, Marion 5
Wednesday’s KSHSAA regional championship game schedule
No. 16 Wichita Southeast (2-16) at No. 1 Manhattan (17-3)
No. 9 Wichita Northwest (10-10) vs. No. 8 Wichita Heights (12-8), 2
Lawrence Free State regional
No. 12 Dodge City (8-12) vs. No. 5 Wichita West (11-7)
No. 13 Junction City (8-12) at No. 4 Lawrence Free State (13-7)
Bishop Carroll regional (at West Urban)
No. 15 Salina Central (6-14) at No. 2 Bishop Carroll (16-4)
No. 10 Andover Central (12-8) vs. No. 7 Goddard (13-7)
Eisenhower regional (on Thursday)
No. 13 Arkansas City (8-12) at No. 4 Goddard Eisenhower (14-5)
No. 12 Kapaun Mt. Carmel (11-9) vs. No. 5 Great Bend (14-6)
Clay Center regional
No. 14 Wellington (8-12) at No. 3 Clay Center (14-4)
No. 11 Chapman (8-10) vs. No. 6 Augusta (13-7)
Wichita Collegiate regional
No. 3 Wichita Trinity (11-7) at No. 1 Wichita Collegiate (17-1), 5
No. 5 Bluestem (8-11) vs. No. 1 Burden-Central (15-1)
No. 3 Sedan (10-8) vs. No. 2 West Elk (15-5)