By KEVIN THOMPSON
LAKIN — One inning, one pitch, one swing - and the fate of a season rides on that.
So it was apropos that the top two teams in the 3A regional played it out as Thomas More Prep-Marian outdueled Lakin 4-3 Thursday to advance to the state tournament in Manhattan, their first trip there since 2005.
Scheduled to be played in Goodland on Wednesday but delayed and switched due to weather and field conditions, the Monarchs took the home field edge away from the Broncs, scoring all four of their runs in the sixth inning.
A three-run home run by designated hitter Krayton Werth over the centerfield fence and solid pitching from Nathan Zimmerman proved to be the keys to the Monarchs win.
Lakin scored first when Gilbert Magallanes led off with a single to left, advanced on a fielder's choice, and scored on a single over first by Zack Aguilar.
In the third, Cody Kinnier led off with a first-pitch single. Chandon Moreno reached on a walk and Aguilar on an error to load the bases. Dylan Shalberg hit a short pop fly to rightfield and two more runs scored. But that would be it for Lakin as they left the bases loaded, and the Broncs reached base just one more time in the next four innings.
Lakin left-hander Evan Holmes was strong through five innings as he faced just two over the minimum.
Then Colby Schippers got the Monarchs' first hit of the game to lead off the sixth, driving a double into left center. He stayed at second when Dylan Schumacher hit into a fielder's choice the next at-bat. Nick Hammeke then reached base on an infield single.
Zimmerman hit a bouncer to Kinnier at first base, who knocked it down and tossed it to Holmes from his knees to get the force out but the ball dropped. Schippers then broke for home, Magallanes' throw from foul territory was too high for catcher Josh Walters and Hays was on the board with runners on the corners.
Holmes struck out Andrew Allen, which brought Werth to the plate for his home run off an outside fastball.
After two ground outs in his previous at-bats, Werth said he was just looking for a way to make amends when he came to the plate in the sixth.
"I was thinking, 'I want to get some score on the board.' I just wanted a strong hit," he said. "I'll take that kind of hit."
For Lakin coach Steve Davidson, the loss was disappointing.
"I told the kids after the game, 'One pitch, one play, that was the difference in the ballgame,'" he said.
Holmes struck out seven, walked two, hit one and gave up just four hits.
In a game against a opponent like TMP, Davidson knew his team would have to eliminate little mistakes. With no big hits and stranding runners proved to be the Broncs downfall.
"Good pitching is going to beat good hitting all the time," he said.
And Zimmerman's performance proved that, especially with the junior's breaking ball and control. After gaining the lead, Zimmerman was hard to beat, getting two ground outs and four strikeouts against the next six Broncs, including back-to-back strikeouts to end the game.
Zimmerman ended the game with 11 strikeouts and just two walks.
TMP coach Brian Schumacher credited his team's growing confidence throughout the season as a key.
"As we continued to win games this season, their confidence just continued to build and obviously that had a big part in helping us stay in the game," he said. "We struggled in the early part of the game but stuck with it."
Zimmerman's pitching performance, excluding the third when he threw 31 pitches and faced eight batters, was also key to the win, Schumacher said.
"He had a lot of confidence and threw strikes today," Schumacher said of Zimmerman. "He settled down and took command of the game."
Hays TMP 4, Lakin 3
TMP (20-3) 000 004 0 -- 4 4 2
Lakin (20-3) 102 000 0 -- 3 5 1
Zimmerman and Pfeifer; Holmes and Walters. W — Zimmerman. L — Holmes. 2B — TMP, Schippers. HR — TMP, Werth.