Indians’ first-round opponent familiar

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Sports

July 26, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Playing their game got the Iola American Legion Leslie J. Campbell Post 15’s AA Indians right where they want to be — in the state tournament.
After a not-so-Iola Indian performance to open last week’s Zone 3 tournament, the Indians went on a scorching six-game march through the losers bracket right to the championship. Winning the 2011 Zone 3 title on their home field, which wasn’t planned since the tournament was hosted by Garnett, Iola’s Indians celebrated Sunday evening but got back to work Monday.
The 2011 Kansas American Legion AA Baseball State Tournament begins Wednesday in Ottawa. The state tournament runs through Saturday.
Iola gets an opportunity to get rid of a bad taste in the first round of the tournament. Two weeks ago Ottawa beat Iola twice for the Kansas Amateur Baseball Association (KABA) League Tournament championship. The two teams split six games evenly this season.
There are seven zones in Kansas AA Legion baseball and the state host team gets an automatic bid to the double-elimination tournament. Schools with enrollment of 500 students or fewer are classified as AA in American Legion baseball.
So the Indians (36-12) face Ottawa in the final game, 9 p.m., Wednesday. The first game between Norton and Pratt is at 1 p.m. followed by Doniphan County taking on Clifton-Clyde. Game 3 featuring Baldwin and Seneca is slated to start at 6:30 p.m.
“The players are excited about playing a good team and Ottawa is a good team. Our guys would like to avenge that league tournament loss but really are focused more on playing our game,” said Mike Taylor, Indians head coach. “If we play our game, it’s hard to beat us.”
None of the current Indian players were on Iola’s last state tournament team in 2007 but the team does have a couple of connections to that team. Taylor pointed out that all three team coaches have played on state American Legion teams.
“We planned to give them some insights. Our kids have played quite a few games on the Ottawa field and feel comfortable playing there,” Taylor said.
Pratt is the defending Kansas AA champion, beating Ottawa in the championship game last year. Doniphan County returns from last year’s field.
The Iola team players are Ryan Latta, Corey Taylor, Jerrik Sigg, Clint Heffern, Levi Ashmore, Drew Walden, Kris Collins, Mason Coons, Jarred Latta and Devon Conner, all from Iola, Ethan Ericson of Moran and Dalton Smith and Austin Knoblock of Yates Center. Sherman Ashmore and John Sigg assist Taylor in coaching the team.
“Defensively, I believe we’re the best team in the tournament. We turned seven double plays in the zone tournament. Offensively, when we are patient at the plate, we hit the ball as hard as any team.
“It comes down to pitching and who makes the fewest mistakes. If our pitchers throw like they did this past week, we like our chances.”
Iola has 10 players on the squad who can pitch. Ericson, Sigg, Ashmore and Smith are the top four. Taylor said he wasn’t sure who will start Wednesday.
“It all depends on how arms feel but probably Ethan (Ericson),” Taylor said. “Corey, Mason, Drew, Clint, Jarred and Ryan, all can come on and pitch when we need them.
“The goal for us is to play our game and if we play the way we’re capable of, we have a great shot of winning it. We’re excited about playing in the state tournament not just about getting there.”
If Ericson does start at pitcher for Wednesday night, the rest of the Iola lineup will be as it has been most of the summer. Ashmore plays shortstop and leads off the batting order with Smith in left field and batting second. Sigg starts in center field and is third at the plate followed by Taylor, who plays first base.
Ryan Latta, who along with Ericson are the “veterans” on the team, plays third base and bats fifth followed by catcher Walden. Coons is the designated hitter but plays in the outfield when Ericson isn’t pitching.  At second base is Heffern who bats in the eighth slot and right fielder Jarred Latta hits ninth.
Depending on who is pitching, several players switch positions. Conner plays right field. Collins is the backup first baseman and pinch hitter and Knoblock is the backup catcher.
Iola finished second at the AA state tournament in 1990, the last time in the tournament before the 2007 squad, and in 1984. The 2007 squad went 2-2 in the state tournament
Iola captured the 1988 Kansas American Legion AA state tournament championship.
2011 Kansas
American Legion
AA State
Baseball Tournament
At Ottawa
Wednesday
Norton vs. Pratt, 1 p.m.
Doniphan County vs. Clifton/Clyde, 3:30 p.m.
Baldwin vs. Seneca, 6:30 p.m.
Ottawa vs. Iola, 9 p.m.
Thursday
Losers of first two games, 10 a.m.
Losers of second two games, 12:30 p.m.
Winners of first two games, 6 p.m.
Winners of first two games, 8:30 p.m.
Friday
Elimination game, 10 a.m.
Elimination game, 12:30 p.m.
Winners bracket final, 6 p.m.
Elimination game, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday
Semifinal, noon
Championship game, 2:30 p.m.
Sunday
Second championship game (if necessary), 10 a.m.

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