By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Call it another missed opportunity for Garden City.
On a day where the Broncbusters had their ace going in game one, their offense, which has been as powerful as anyone in the country, went silent. And it happened at the worst possible time.
Barton County smashed five long balls including two by Brett Bonar in game two, ace Josh Hendrickson was lights out, throwing just 81 pitches in a five-inning victory, and the 11th-ranked Cougars took the first two from the Broncbusters 18-3 and 14-7 Thursday afternoon at Williams Stadium.
"I'm really proud of my guys for fighting back," Garden City Coach Chris Finnegan said. "But it was the same song same dance. We had way too many errors today."
The Broncbusters booted the ball seven times on Thursday, bringing their season total to 61.
"Half of our guys are working hard and the other half not so much," Finnegan said. "Everybody has to put in the work."
The way game one started compared to how it ended goes to show you how volatile junior college baseball really is.
After surrendering a leadoff double to Dawson Pomeroy in the top of the first, Broncbuster starter Austin Stone appeared to settle in. He got Bonar and Kaden Fowler to ground out before inducing Carson Engroff into a harmless fly ball to right. Then, in the bottom of the inning, Garden City caught a break when Hendrickson's toss skipped away from Engroff at first, giving Griff Brunson three free bags while bringing home Clint Allen, who began the frame with a walk. Two batters later, Corbin Truslow hit a sacrifice fly, and the Bronbusters had a 2-0 lead.
With a two-run cushion, Stone continued to cruise in the second, starting the stanza by striking out Brady Michel, and getting Brett Erickson to hit what looked like a routine fly ball to Geno Bourget in right. But the freshman dropped it, and Erickson steamed into second. Jared Maneth followed with an infield single, and Paul Claassen drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases.
"Our guys have to understand that you can't continue to work from behind all the time," Finnegan said.
With the sacks full, Brett Hueslman drove Stone's fastball into centerfield, plating two. Two batters later, Fowler ripped an RBI single before Engroff's double to the gap brought Hueslman around, pushing Barton County (19-4, 5-1) in front 4-2.
"We have to figure this thing out, one way or another," Finnegan explained.
Bourget committed another miscue in the third when his misplayed Maneth's fly ball, allowing Michel, who began the inning with a double, to score from second to make it 5-2.
"When you get routine plays and continue to kick it around, you're just lighting the fire," Finnegan said.
Chris Lara's RBI single in the bottom of the third gave Garden City a little life. But Barton County quickly quashed any ideas of a comeback just two innings later when Bonar led off with a triple, Michel, Erickson and Maneth followed with run-scoring doubles, and just like that the Cougars had an 8-3 advantage.
But the fatal blow came in the sixth. The Cougars sent 15 men to the plate, Michel mashed a two-run homer, and Maneth hit a solo job, all of which was part of a 10-run inning that broke the Broncbusters' back. The combination of Nick Iossi, Brandt Sobczak, and Ryan Nason issued three walks, allowed eight hits and gave up two jacks, fueling the Cougars largest output in a single inning this season.
"As long as these guys keep playing hard, they will figure it out," Finnegan said.
Stone dropped to 3-3, allowing six earned runs in four innings of work. Iossi gave up one run in relief, Sobczak three, Nason five and Stephens yielded two in a 1/3 of an inning.
Hendrickson improved to 5-0 on the hill, allowing just three hits and fanning six in five innings. While the Cougars pitching kept Garden City off balance, the offense came through in a big way. Seven of the nine batters recorded multi-hit games including Michel, who was 4-for-5 with four RBI.
"That first one definitely got away from us," Finnegan said.
Things went from bad to worse in the first three innings of game two. The Cougars chased starter Jacob Garza after just 2/3 of an inning. The freshman gave up a double to Fowler and Bonar; then issued three straight free passes before Finnegan finally pulled the plug. Jacob Douglas strolled in from the right-field bullpen, inheriting a bases-loaded jam. He promptly walked Fowler to bring in another run before finally getting Engroff to strike out to end the top of the first. In total, Garza and Douglas gave up six runs and walked four batters.
"All I wanted at that point was for Jacob (Douglas) to minimize the damage, and he did," Finnegan said.
Barton County added two more runs in the second: a Maneth sac fly and Michel's RBI Single. Then in the third, Fowler took the first pitch he saw from Douglas and powered it over the fence in right field for a 9-0 lead.
"You can see that our guys fought," Finnegan said.
The Broncbusters did not go quietly, scoring three in the fourth, fueled by back-to-back, RBI singles by Truslow and Lara. In the fifth, Ty Lightley doubled to left, and Allen brought him around with an RBI groundout. After Brunson reached on a throwing error by Pomeroy at third, Robbie Young was plunked by Andrew Repp's curveball. The table was set for Truslow, who after a pitching change, took Tanner Howe's 2-1 offering and pulverized it over the wall in right for a three-run blast that pulled Garden City to within two, 9-7.
"We gave ourselves a chance in that second game," Finnegan said.
But the game was lost on missed opportunities. The Broncbusters stranded the bases loaded in both the sixth and seventh innings; then watched Douglas, who pitched brilliantly in long relief, give up a solo homer to Bonar to start the eighth before Paxton Robinson surrendered a two-run single to Claassen who hit a little flare over Lara's head at third base. Bonar finished off Garden City in the ninth when he homered again to right field, polishing off a two-game sweep for the Cougars.
Howe picked up the win in relief, allowing just one run in 1.1 innings. Bonar finished off a stellar day, going 4-for-6 at the dish with two homers and four RBI. Fowler was 2-for-5, and Claassen went 2-for-4 with 2 runs batted in.
Garza dropped to 0-2 for Garden City, allowing six runs on two hits while walking four.
Next up: Garden City at Barton County-Saturday, March 17-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app