BUHLER — Fresh off eliminating the host team Buhler from playoff contention, the McPherson Post 24 Junior Legion baseball team turned its attention to Great Bend. McPherson needed consecutive wins over Great Bend to advance to state, but came up one game shy of the A Zone Tournament championship.

McPherson head coach Heath Gerstner had nothing but positives to say about his team following Saturday’s loss.

“First and foremost this was a group that was a blast to coach,” Gerstner said. “We had a bunch of selfless guys that were way more interested in the success of the team over their own personal success. As I left the field [Saturday] night, I had such a sense of pride just knowing the growth the guys had made throughout summer, and most importantly, slowly but surely, they are maturing into great young men.”

Needing two wins to advance to state, Gerstner had his team focused on the immediate task at hand in game one. McPherson scored one in the first, but Great Bend followed with two in the second and three in the third. Entering the top of the fifth inning, McPherson trailed 5-1 with the season slipping away.

But the McPherson offense did not panic; instead, they unleashed a furious, nine-run inning. McPherson took control of the game and never allowed Great Bend back in, winning the game 10-7.

“Our bottom half of the order was able to get on base and then our top guys starting bunting and hitting some missiles, and really quickly we had the game tied and created a nine-run inning,” Gerstner said.

As if the odds weren’t already against McPherson enough, the juniors were dealt a major blow in game two as Gerstner and starting pitcher Chandler Wiard were ejected after the first pitch. Three additional pitchers were used to try and keep the game close, but it was just too much to overcome as Great Bend advanced to state with a 12-3 win.

“We had our book and charts and they didn’t match everyone else,” Gerstner said on the ejections. “It all falls on my shoulders and I take the blame. I was not pleased how the situation was handled, but it is what it is.”

As for the game itself, Great Bend jumped out to a 4-0 lead after one, and scored five runs in the sixth and three in the seventh to put the game away.

“Sometimes with baseball you get a curve ball and how you respond defines your team,” Gerstner said. “We were thrown some adversity with Chandler and I getting ejected after one pitch, and our guys did not sit and pout, but instead went out and competed their butts off. The amount of pressure situations they were put in throughout the championship game was outstanding and not easily created in practices or normal double headers. Super proud of Devin Feil for coming in with zero warm up and really giving our guys a chance to win the game.”

Gerstner says the experience of this summer season will help in the spring when this team is playing for McPherson High School.

“Future is bright for this young group who really are learning to play the game the right way,” Gerstner said. “Most importantly they are learning to play for each other, and you do not see that all the time. We had chances with base loaded multiple times and I know come next spring and summer our kids will be more prepared for those situations. As a coach, that has me excited.”

McPherson finished its season with a 20-9 record.

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