By Mike Pilosof
Concordia, KS-The Broncbusters earned their first conference series victory in 2018.
Robbie Young and Clint Allen homered, Ryder Yakel struck out five, and the Broncbusters split the final two games of their series with Cloud County, losing the first game 14-2 before bouncing back with a 9-6 win in the finale, taking three of the four games.
"In college baseball, you're always fortunate to sweep the first two games," Head Coach Chris Finnegan said. "But game three was tough."
That third game almost seemed like a blur for starter Jacob Douglas, who was chased after giving up 10 runs on 10 hits in two innings. He allowed three home runs.
Eric Sabrowski hit a two-out, solo blast in the first before Ryan Krolikowski drilled a lead-off dinger to begin the second. That was followed by Luis Landaeta's two-run shot a couple of batters later, which put the Thunderbirds up 6-0.
Garden City (15-7, 3-1) got a run back in the top of the third when Ty Barclay went yard. But Cloud County (6-8, 1-3) answered with five more in the bottom half; then finished off the Broncbusters with Landaeta's second homer of the game: a two-run shot in the fourth, which was part of a three-run inning that put the home squad up 14-1.
"When you're the team that got swept that first day, you're locked in," Finnegan said. "Cloud County was locked in."
Allen's RBI triple in the bottom of the fifth pushed across one more run for Garden City. But Sabrowski quickly slammed the door after that, fanning Griff Brunson on five pitches to induce the run rule in the sixth.
Incredibly, the bottom half of Cloud County's order did most of the damage. The 5-through-9 hitters (Kolikowski, Tucker Catlett, Aidan Huggins, Landaeta and Ryan Simons) combined to go 11-for-14 at the plate with seven RBI.
"The wind was howling out, but that's just baseball," Finnegan said.
Douglas fell to 5-3, while Sabrowski was spot on for the Thunderbirds, picking up the complete-game victory, striking out 10 and allowing just two runs on four hits.
"I thought our guys did a really good job of turning the page," Finnegan said.
In the final game, the Broncbusters' offense got going early thanks to Young, who uncorked a two-run bomb over the right-field wall for a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. But as quickly as Garden City built the lead is how fast it dissipated when Enrique Gonzalez tattooed Yakel's 2-1 pitch to straightaway center to tie the game in the bottom of the frame. Huggins added a sacrifice fly and Landaeta roped an RBI single to put Cloud in front 4-2.
"Ryder pitched his tail off today," Finnegan said. "He just got to a point with a couple of really stressful innings."
Yakel had plenty of help from the offense, which got back on track in third on Allen's lead-off round tripper. Later in the inning, Barclay smacked a single up the middle, scoring Brunson from third to tie the game at 4.
Brunson did his own damage in the fourth, doubling home Allen to give the Broncbusters the lead for good. Corbin Truslow added a run-scoring single, and Garden City had a 6-4 edge.
"We had a lot of guys saying that they were going to do something to find a way to win that last game," Finnegan said.
The Thunderbirds made it a one-run contest in the fifth when Catlett drove in Enrique Gonzalez with a flare single. That's when Finnegan replaced Yakel with Paxton Robinson, who promptly got Huggins to fly out to right to end the threat.
Garden City added some insurance in the seventh courtesy of Cloud County pitcher Austen Seidel, who issued a bases-loaded walk to Brunson to make it 7-5. That run paid huge dividends because in the bottom of the eighth, Huggins tripled and scored when Lightley booted a ball at short, cutting the Broncuster lead back to one.
"We had some timely hits, and I thought Nick (Iossi) and Paxton Robinson were huge in relief."
Garden City finished off the Thunderbirds in the ninth, scoring twice on Cloud County miscues, as Garden City moved into a three-way tie for first place with Butler and Colby atop the Jayhawk West.
Lightley collected three hits, and Bourget, Allen, Young and Truslow all recorded multi-hit games.
Iossi picked up his first win of the year out of the bullpen.
Next up: Garden City at Butler-Thursday, March 8-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app