By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-In his first 12 seasons as Garden City Baseball Coach, Chris Finnegan has strung together one of the most consistent programs in the Jayhawk Conference.
In 2017, the Broncbusters won 34 games and finished fourth in the West; the year before that, Finnegan's squad posted a 45-win campaign for the second time under his watch and first since 2009.
"Each year, our goal is the same," Finnegan said. "But we know how competitive this league is. It's no different than any other sport."
Finnegan has a modest approach and comes from the Jeff Sims' school of coaching: under sell and over deliver. That's enabled his team to finish in the top four in the conference eight times, which includes two regular-season crowns in 2012 and 2009.
"Last year is last year; two years ago is done, we have to focus on this year," Finnegan said. "It's easy to look back, but it's harder to do the same thing over and over."
This year, the Broncbusters have a good mix of returners and young guys; enough talent to give Hutchinson and Cowley a run for their money in the division.
Garden City brings back first-team, all-conference catcher Tyrus Barclay, who finished sixth on the team with a .310 average while knocking in 34. But his biggest contribution came from behind the plate where his .997 fielding percentage ranked sixth in the Jayhawk. Incredibly, he committed only one error in 49 games.
Also back is slugger and second-team, all-conference performer Clint Allen, who mashed eight homers, tied with Alex Nielsen for second on the team. He hit .345 and was 31st in the Jayhawk with a .593 slugging percentage.
While he and Darien Burns man the outfield, Ty Lightley is back to swallow up ground balls on the middle infield. The shortstop landed on the all-conference second team last season, and was top 15 in the conference in walks, drawing 33 free passes. He hit three long balls and was one of nine Broncbusters to post a .300 or better average. Not bad for a team that averaged more than eight runs per contest.
Finnegan also has a wealth of hurlers back including Lakin-native Ryder Yakel, who posted a 4.50 ERA in 10 starts, finishing 5-4. He notched one shutout and fanned 47 while only walking 14. Expect the sophomore to be a key part of the Broncbusters rotation along with Kendrick Catron. Nick Iossi leads a strong bullpen after striking out 24 during his freshman year. Austin Stone could also be penciled in as one of Finnegan's starters after having his season cut short last year because of injury.
"Our pitching needs to be more consistent," Finnegan said. "Our offense was pretty good last year, but we have to be able to throw strikes and get guys out."
Garden City did lose a slew of offensive talent off last year's squad, including Nielsen, who finished second on the team and 17th in the conference with 56 RBI. His .391 batting average was 10th best in the Jayhawk, which included 26 multi-hit games.
Per the usual, Finnegan has put together another competitive, non-conference schedule that includes a home showdown with preseason No. 19 Indian Hills on Feb. 23, and Trinidad State to open the season, a club that finished 36-24 last season and came up one game shy of reaching the World Series