By Tim Boulware
Pratt, KS-How do you improve on a 5-for-9 performance in the opening two games of the series? Ask Garden City third baseman Alex Nielsen.
Nielsen clubbed his seventh homer of the year; a two-run blast in the third; then cleared the bases with a three-run double in the seventh inning of game two as the Broncbusters swept the final two games in Pratt 13-3 in a run-rule shortened six innings and 10-6.
Nielsen, who last year went 5-for-12 with seven RBI in four games vs. Pratt (20-30, 7-21), including a grand slam, ended this year's series going 8-for-17 with 7 RBI.
Garden City Catcher Ty Barclay powered out a three-run homer; his second of the series in the sixth inning off Pratt reliever Parker English, and Garden City turned a close 4-3 game into a blowout with four in the fifth and five in the sixth to run rule Pratt in six innings.
Garden City starting pitcher Kendrick Catron (3-4), who struggled early on allowing a run each in the second, third and fourth innings, ate up some innings when the team needed them the most.
After inducing Anthony Romer's ground-ball double play to end the fourth, Catron retired the side in order over his final two innings for his first complete game win since Feb. 18 at New Mexico Military.
In game two, Garden City short on arms, needed a little bit from everybody to pull through. Billy Clark provided the spark offensively with a leadoff triple in a two-run first inning. It was the beginning of a four-hit game for the Broncbuster (29-22, 14-14) right fielder. He finished with two singles, a double and triple needing only a homer for the cycle.
Aeneas Roberson found a home in the second spot in the order behind Clark and started the game with RBI singles in the first, second and fourth as part of a 5-RBI series for the Broncbuster center fielder.
The game was not without its moments as Pratt kept chipping away at an early 6-0 deficit through an inning and a half. Clint Allen's two-run single off Beavers starting pitcher Quinton Kopjar made it a six-run lead. But Pratt had the answer, scoring four off of Broncbusters spot-starter A.J. Stephens on Trevor Wetzel's RBI double, followed by a two-run single from Daniel Johnson and a sacrifice fly by Anthony Romer.
With Garden City leading 7-5 in the bottom of the fifth, Tynan Hofferle doubled to right center with one out, and after a single and a walk loaded up the bases off Garden City reliever Noah Foreman, Pratt first baseman Josh Jones made it a one-run game with his RBI single.
Garden City Coach Chris Finnegan called on Mitchell Savine for the third time in the series out of the Broncbuster bullpen. After an adventurous first two games of the series where he recorded the save in game one and allowed the game-winning hit to Hofferle in game two, Savine kept his team in the lead when he struck out Trevor Wetzel and had Elijah Boyer hit a comebacker to the mound, ending the threat.
While Pratt failed the capitalize with the bases loaded in the fifth, Garden City did not when Nielsen doubled down the left-field line, bringing in Alex Eskridge, Clark and Aeneas Roberson.
"He (Nielsen) was behind in the count the whole AB (at bat) and found a way to battle a couple of pitches off and found a way to sweep one down the third base line," Garden City Coach Chris Finnegan said. "We were fortunate we had the right runners in front of him who could score."
Leading by four, Garden City turned to Dillan Feurestein for the final three innings, and he took care of business. Utilizing his curveball and having command of a good fastball, Feurestein allowed just two singles, struck out five and had Daniel Johnson hit into an inning-ending double play to end the eighth inning.
"I have to give our pitching staff a lot of credit this weekend," Finnegan said. "They did a lot better. Yeah, we had a blowup inning yesterday (ninth inning of game two), but if you look at it as a whole, we pitched it a lot better this weekend. I don't think Pratt gets enough credit for how good of a team they are."
The win means Garden City is at .500 14-14 in the conference and will finish with a 9-7 record in conference road games.
Next up: Garden City vs. Seward County-series start times TBA because of weather