By Tim Boulware
Kansas City, KS-Garden City Head Coach Chris Finnegan was looking for more from his team after a sloppy 13-3 loss Friday in the opener of their best of three Region VI tournament series. But even he was surprise by the way his team came out.
"I didn't think we would get five runs," Finnegan said. "But they stuck with our plan the first couple of innings, and we put seven runs up."
The five runs came off Kansas City left-handed starting pitcher Shae Stephens (6-4). And despite having a 7-1 lead cut down to 7-6, the advantage never changed hands as Garden City scored a 9-6 win in Kansas City. The win forces a decisive game three for the right to move on to Wichita's Lawrence-Dumont Stadium for the second round of regional play.
The Broncbusters had the first four batters reach against Stephens, capping off the string with a two-run single for first baseman Jesse Gonzales. Gonzales also added another two-run single in the second making it 7-1 as part of a 4 RBI day for the sophomore.
Rafael Villela stroked a two-run triple making it 4-0. Ty Barclay also chipped in with a sacrifice fly as part of the five-run fifth.
Kansas City never let down. A team that finished a whopping 25-4 at home this season, the Blue Devils (39-19, 24-12) did what they had accomplished one day earlier, scoring all three runs in the second inning with two outs.
Kendrick Catron struggled in his starting role and allowed shortstop Albert Woodard's RBI single and two-run triple to right-center from Tyler Pittman. For Pittman it was his third and fourth RBI of the series and dropped the Garden City lead down to 7-4.
Things would get more exciting in the third when a fielding error on second baseman Alex Eskridge scored Easton Fortuna. Brandon Green added his third RBI off reliever Mitchell Savine to make it 7-6. With the tying and go-ahead runners in scoring position, Savine retired both catcher Drew Holtgrieve and Albert Woodard to end the inning and keep Garden City in front.
The Broncbusters re-established control of the game in the fourth when Eskridge atoned for his third-inning error by belting his second homer of the year off Stephens. The blast to left was his first long ball since March 19 at Butler. It also gave Garden City a two-run lead at 8-6.
Garden City scored the final run of the game in the fifth when Ty Lightley knocked in Villela making it 9-6. The Broncbuster offense could not muster anything against Blue Devil reliever Corey Cowan. Cowan allowed Alex Nielsen's single in the sixth. The Broncbusters loaded the bases, but failed to capitalize when Villela struck out looking.
Cowan retired the last 10 batters he faced.
Connor Burns knew he would come on in relief, but it was much earlier than even he anticipated. Burns shutdown the Blue Devils offense, although he had to weave and duck his way through the last six innings.
Making his first appearance since April 14 vs. Hutchinson and seeking his first win since March 25 against Barton, Burns (6-2) surrendered two hits each in the sixth and eighth as part of a seven-hit outing.
Chase Reddick, with the bases loaded, flew out to Aeneas Roberson in center ending the sixth. In the eighth, Garden City turned their second double play off the bat of Rorey Combs, preventing the Blue Devils from bringing in the two runners that would have cut the Broncbuster lead back down to one run.
Dillan Feuerstein warmed up a couple of times when Burns encountered trouble, but in the end Finnegan went with the guy who did so much to reach the final inning with Garden City in the lead.
"He's our guy, he's been our guy for two years," Finnegan said. "He's earned that right. He (Burns) basically told me in between innings: we're either winning this or losing this with me."
Despite Burns serving up a double to Reddick, the Broncbusters' reliever retired the next two batters to end the game.
Next up: Game 3-Garden City at Kansas City-Sunday, May 7-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app