By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Broncbuster Coach Chris Finnegan knew exactly what his team was facing this weekend.
"Hutchinson may be the best team the Jayhawk Conference has seen in a long time," he said.
The 11th-ranked Blue Dragons definitely proved that in their series opener with the Broncbusters on Friday.
Hutchinson used a 10-run, ninth-inning assault to take game one 24-14 before Scott Wolverton's seventh-inning triple put a bow on a day-one sweep with a 9-8 victory in game two at Williams Stadium.
"You can't put fuel on the fire against a team like that," Finnegan said. "We had every chance to win one of those games."
The Broncbusters answered every call in the opener, matching the Blue Dragons run-for-run through eight innings. But in the second of the extra frames, things got away from Finnegan's bunch in a big-time way.
With the game tied at 14 in the ninth, Garden City (25-19, 11-11) reliever Nick Ulmer got leadoff man Shane Cooper to fly out to center field. From there, the Blue Dragons went to work, putting an exclamation point on their fifth straight victory.
Michael Helman singled and scored when Bobby Morgensen doubled him home to put Hutchinson (32-11, 20-6) in front 15-14. Ulmer responded by getting Nolan Hakel to ground out to first base for the second out. But the Blue Dragons were far from finished. Brady Hoover followed with an RBI single, Caden Doga slapped a base hit, and Wyatt Divis drew a walk to load the bases. The next three batters: Wolverton, Julian Rip and Shane Cooper were plunked all by fastballs, forcing in three runs. Then it was Helman, stepping in for the second time in the inning and lacing a two-run double followed by Morgensen's three-run bomb that made it 24-14.
"It was just one of those innings," Finnegan said. "It's hard to put your finger on it. It kind of spiraled out of control."
That fateful ninth-inning produced 10 runs on six hits while Ulmer and Zach Fritton combined to hit four batters.
Blue Dragons reliever Jaden Simmons responded with a 1-2-3 bottom half to end the game.
"That's baseball, and it happens," Finnegan said. "You move on."
Finnegan's team was more than up for the challenge. Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the second, Billy Clark took Hutchinson starter Nolan Hoffman deep for a three-run shot that gave the Broncbusters a 3-2 lead.
After the Blue Dragons tallied four in the top of the third to regain the advantage, Garden City answered with nine runs over the next two frames, including a seven-run fourth that was spearheaded by back-to-back homers by Ty Lightley and Aeneas Roberson to lead off the inning. Conner Reynolds added a two-run double before coming around to score on a passed ball to make it 12-9 Garden City.
But Hutchinson, who came into the series fifth in the nation in runs scored, never went away. Cooper's RBI single in the fifth followed by the Blue Dragons four-run seventh gave Hutchinson a 14-13 advantage.
With one last chance to force extras in the bottom of the seventh, Alex Eskridge drew a leadoff walk. Nielsen advanced him to second with a single before Gonzales base hit brought him all the way around to tie the game. But with the winning run at second, Simmons got Barclay to pop out, Rafael Viella to strike out and Lightley to line out to end the inning.
Simmons improved to 5-0 on the bump for the Blue Dragons, tossing three innings of solid relief while allowing only one run on two hits. He struck out four.
Ulmer dropped to 0-3 for Garden City, allowing six runs on four hits.
The two teams proved evenly matched for most of game two as well.
Morgensen started the scoring for Hutchinson with a solo shot off of Noah Foreman in the top of the first.
Garden City tied it in the bottom half thanks to Clint Allen's run-scoring single.
The teams proceeded to trade blows over the next two frames with the Blue Dragons plating two in the top of the second on Wolverton's two-run home run before Clark gave Garden City the lead with a three-run blast in the bottom of the second to make it 4-3 Broncbusters.
In the third, Morgensen tied the contest with an RBI double before Divis's two-run double gave Hutchinson a 6-4 lead. That was answered in the bottom half with Lightley's run-scoring double and Roberson's RBI single that evened the game at 6.
The Blue Dragons produced the go-ahead runs in the sixth with a two-out rally. Helman drew a four-pitch walk, Morgensen singled, and Hakel doubled home two. The Broncbusters responded with their own two-out magic in the sixth with an RBI triple by Eskridge and a run-scoring single by Nielsen to tie the game again.
But Garden City's magic finally ran out in the seventh when Wolverton tripled home Doga for a 9-8 Hutchinson advantage.
In their last at bat, the Broncbuseters put the tying run on with one out. But Lightley bounced into a game-ending double play.
Ray Monje took the loss for Garden City, allowing the go-ahead run in one inning of work. Gage Burns picked up his first win of the season for Hutchinson, and Dayden Lane produced his fourth save.
Next up: Garden City vs. Hutchinson-Saturday, April 15-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app