By Todd Fertig
It had been so long since Topeka High took a baseball game from Washburn Rural, no one in attendance at Hummer Sports Park Tuesday night could remember for sure when it last happened.
The Trojans didn’t just win a game on Tuesday, they swept a doubleheader over the Junior Blues in dramatic fashion.
Washburn Rural jumped out to early leads in both games, only to see the scrappy Trojans roar back with big innings and gutsy pitching from junior Nate Plankinton to win both.
Topeka High claimed the first game 6-5, then won a wild 11-10 marathon that included a 20-minute delay for a light outage.
“This was a really tough test for us,” said Topeka High coach Cody Miller. “They placed third in state last year and they’re a really good team. For us to not fold and keep our heads up and keep chipping away at them ... we didn’t really do anything spectacular. We did basic things and kept making basic plays.
"Then we handed it over to Nate at the end because we had a chance to go get it. He’s our guy. He did a great job of closing it out for us.”
Plankinton, scheduled to pitch the second game of the doubleheader, came in in relief in the fourth inning of the first game when the Trojans bats came alive.
He entered the first game in the top of the fifth inning after the Trojans rallied back from a 5-1 deficit to lead 6-5. The junior struck out six batters and surrendered just one single and one walk over the next three frames for the win.
“I don’t even focus on how many runs we’re up,” Plankinton said. “I just focus on getting the guys out at the plate. That’s all we need.”
Wearing a brace to support a sprained right ankle, Plankinton moved back to the outfield for the second game, which the Junior Blues soon had in a stranglehold.
A four-run third inning put Washburn Rural up 9-2 in the middle of the fifth.
That’s when luck reared its head for the Trojans.
Washburn Rural pitcher Aiden Boleski was cruising along to start the fifth, having surrendered just four hits and striking out three. But two pitches into the fifth inning, a portion of the lights went out. The players huddled in semi-darkness waiting for the game to resume. When Boleski returned to the mound, he struggled to regain his form. The Trojans stitched together a nine-run inning with just four hits.
“Obviously, that was a huge momentum change,” Miller said. “You feel bad, a little bit, for Rural because I’m sure they felt like they had the game in hand. It was a fresh inning, so you feel kind of bad for their pitcher.
“It was a really flukey thing that happened, and our guys did a really good job of staying in it and battling back. We capitalized and found a break for us. It takes two or three big hits and those guys doing the right things to stay in it.”
Finding his team in the lead after feeling hopelessly out of it before the delay, Miller turned to Plankinton again. Was the junior anxious that his arm, or ankle, wouldn’t hold up?
“Not at all. If anything, I was more confident because I knew what I could do against these guys at the plate,” Plankinton said. “I had seen their weaknesses already and I attacked that.” Plankington scrambled to hold off a Junior Blues rally in the sixth inning, then struck out the side in the seventh.
Following the dramatic sweep, Miller reflected on the character of this Topeka High team, which improved to 4-0.
“It speaks to those guys in the dugout. They don’t ever think they’re out of it,” Miller said. “I see a lot of good things from this group. Attitude-wise, I am seeing a special group. We’ve got another big test this Friday at Manhattan. Probably our two biggest tests of the year are this week.”
“It’s a great start to the season. We’re going to keep it rolling from here,” Plankinton said. “The emotions are high and we’re feeling confident. I’ve been here for three years, and I think this is the best team we’ve had so far. Energy wise, talent wise, we’re going to be good as we continue the season.”
TOPEKA HIGH 6, WASHBURN RURAL 5
Washburn Rural 203 000 0 — 5 8 1
Topeka High 012 300 x — 6 6 3
Studebaker, Rea (4) and Johnson. Votah, Williams (4), Plankinton (5) and E. Kincaide. W — Plankinton. L — Rea. 2B — Washburn Rural: Walker. Topeka High: Votah. HR — Washburn Rural: Weber.
TOPEKA HIGH 11, WASHBURN RURAL 5
Washburn Rural (0-4) 124 210 0 — 10 8 2
Topeka High (4-0) 100 190 x — 11 6 5
Boleski, Florence (5) and Fox. Stumper, Elliot (3), Gomez (4), Plankinton (6) and E. Kincaide. W — Plankinton. L — Florence. 2B — Topeka High: E. Kincaid, Wheat.