BUHLER — When Buhler struck first, McPherson struck back even harder. And when McPherson struck back even harder, Buhler was never able to recover.

As a result, the McPherson Post 24 Junior Legion baseball team lives to see another day, and Buhler’s summer season comes to an end.

Overcoming a three-run Buhler lead in the top of the first, and riding a nine-run bottom of the first to the finish line, the McPherson juniors advanced to the A-Zone Tournament championship game against Great Bend on Saturday. McPherson will need consecutive wins against Great Bend Saturday morning to advance to state, while Great Bend just needs one win to punch its ticket.

McPherson dropped an 11-9 decision to Great Bend on Thursday, but Post 24 head coach Heath Gerstner knows his squad is capable of rallying off two more wins.

“We have to first and foremost have great pitching, and then we’re going to need some timely hits,” Gerstner said. “We know what they are, we know we can beat them twice. We just have to play hard and make sure our pitchers are ready to go.”

Some shaky defense early on gave Buhler an opening to take a first inning lead. A leadoff error came around to score, as did two more runs by the time the top of the first was complete. Despite a rough start, starting pitcher Jakob Feil was able to comeback marvelously, pitching a complete game and only allowing three earned runs.

When McPherson did come up to bat in the bottom of the first, they didn’t go down quietly. Post 24 had taken a 5-3 lead before Buhler was able to record an out. And even when McPherson did make an out, it was a productive out.

The first two outs of the inning were both sacrifice flies — one by Kourtney Craig and the other by Tyler Scott. Buhler finally had the bases empty with two outs, but McPherson proceeded to bat around and load the bases again.

Shane Starkel ripped a hard hit ball to the Buhler third baseman, who was unable to keep the ball in front of him, scoring two more runs. McPherson did load the bases one more time in the inning for good measure, but Buhler was ultimately able to secure that elusive third out.

“Our guys came out swinging the sticks today,” Gerstner said of his team’s nine-run first inning. “It’s kind of nice in postseason when you can get hot like that. We strung a bunch of hits together and took advantage of a few of their miscues; it was great to create that big of an inning.”

The game calmed down a bit from there as Jakob Feil and the defense found their groove and the McPherson offense methodically added to the lead.

Chandler Wiard scored the only run in the second inning off a wild pitch. Although Buhler scored two in the top of the third, Devin Feil tripled to lead off the bottom of the third, giving McPherson back any momentum they had lost from Buhler’s top half. Honestee Whittker drove in Wiard a couple batters later to give McPherson an 11-5 lead after three.

Jakob Feil pitched two more scoreless innings, McPherson added a run in the fourth, and Starkel’s RBI single in the fifth gave McPherson a 13-5 mercy rule win.

Devin Feil went 3-for-4 to lead the offense; Craig and Wiard also had two RBIs each.

If all goes well, McPherson will face Great Bend twice on Saturday at Buhler Sports Complex. Only the 8 a.m. game is guaranteed, but if McPherson wins the first game, the two teams will play shortly after for a trip to the A-State Tournament in Hays next week. Great Bend is 2-0 in the tournament so far.

Contact Gallagher Martin by email at gmartin@mcphersonsentinel.com and follow him on Twitter @GMartinSentinel.