May 24, 2023

2-Seeded Mustangs make triumphant return to 4A state tournament

Posted May 24, 2023 12:17 AM

Little Apple Post contributor

After a brief absence from the 4A state tournament, the Rock Creek baseball dynasty is back, and will enter this year’s bracket in Salina as the 2-seed.

The Mustangs, who won the state title in 2021 and who prior to last season hadn’t missed the tournament since 2013, decimated Coffeyville 10-0, before coming back to knock off Wamego 5-1 in the regional final.

“In that first regional game we felt like we took care of business,” Mustang head coach Shane Sieben said. “It’s hard to beat a team three times in one year especially a team that knows you as well as Wamego but we competed and we were able to battle back.”

At 21-1, Rock Creek boasts the best overall record in all of Class 4A, outscoring their opponents by an unheard of 220 runs on the year, including seven shutouts.

The only team to defeat the Mustangs this season is the 1-seed in Clay Center, who split their season series in Tiger country to finish 21-1 themselves.

“Our pitching and defense have been our biggest strengths this season but I also don’t feel like we have an easy out anywhere in our lineup,” Sieben said. “Everybody fights at the plate, we’ve been really good on the hill and we’ve been really good in the field.”

Those stats and accolades have been all the more impressive in the absence of the kind of singular elite talent that some other teams in this field have leaned heavily on in 2023.

“Just seeing how everybody has played together this year has been the best thing with this team,” he said. We don’t have a superstar or a player of the year type of guy but we have a bunch of kids who work their tails off, compete hard, and love each other.”

In Rock Creek, teams across the board have found success not by focusing on what they might be up against, but on what they need to do to look within and get the job done.

On Thursday against a strong Paola team, that internal mindset will not change.

“They’ve got a really good left-handed arm and they’re tough at the plate but we’ve talked all year about nameless, faceless opponents,” Sieben said. “All we can do is throw strikes, play defense, and battle at the plate, it doesn’t matter who’s in the other dugout.”

Many remnants of that 2021 state championship team still loom within the Mustang's lineup, and those veterans know better than anyone that anything can happen come gameday in Salina.

“For us, it was about finding a way to get to the big tournament, we know that once you get here crazy stuff can happen,” he said. “There are a lot of things you can’t control and seeding means nothing this time of year, everybody here is good and now it’s about finding a way to go 1-0 against a good Paola team.”

First pitch between the Mustangs and Panthers is scheduled for 11 am at Dean Evans Stadium in Salina.

For continuing coverage of Rock Creek baseball all postseason long, stay tuned to the Little Apple Post.