By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Tanner White, have yourself a series.
The transfer from Butler was a tough out, going a combined 6-for-8 at the plate, Colton Onstott wacked his fourth homer of the series, and Dodge City won the final two games over Garden City 4-1 and 5-4 Saturday afternoon at Williams Stadium.
"We got after it," Garden City Coach Chris Finnegan said. "But when you lose three out of four games, there is really not a whole lot to say."
The silver lining for Garden City: their bullpen, which had been mildly inconsistent all season, finally started to come around. But in the end, the Conquistadors power proved to be the difference.
In game three, Dodge City (17-9, 5-7) found a way to manufacture runs early. After White led off the second inning with a double, Garrett McGowan drove him in with a sacrifice fly to center. An inning later, Cade Engle reached with a two-out, infield single. Brayden Cook followed with an RBI double to right-center, and the Conquistadors had a 2-0 edge.
"It's just kind of hit and miss right now," Finnegan said.
Dodge City added another run in the fifth before Garden City (17-18, 5-11) when on the offensive.
In the bottom of the frame, Clint Allen singled with one out, Robbie Young followed with an RBI base hit, and the Broncbusters pulled to within 3-1. With two outs, Corbin Truslow was hit by a pitch, bringing Chris Lara to the plate as the tying run. But the freshman lined out to left, and the threat was over.
"We left a lot of guys on base today," Finnegan said. "We have to score when we have the chance."
The Conquistadors did just that. With one on and nobody out in the sixth, McGowan hit a sharp ground ball that went underneath the glove of Gino Bourget at second base. With Darien Burns bobbling the ball in right field, Dauson Tate score all the way from first, giving Dodge City a 4-1 cushion.
"All it takes is one mistake it seems like," Finnegan said. "And it's frustrating, but we have to work our way out of it."
Trailing by three, Garden City had an ideal scenario play out in the seventh. Finnegan's best power hitter, Truslow, stepped to the plate with runners at the corners and two outs. But in a spot he normally thrives in, the freshman failed to get a hit; instead grounding out to McGowan at first, and giving the Conquistadors a second straight victory.
Eric Heiman lost his first decision of the season, giving up three earned runs in five innings. Nick Iossi and Ryan Nason combined for two innings of shutout relief, while Young went 2-for-4 at the dish with an RBI.
William Cain improved to 4-0 on the season for Dodge City, allowing just one run on five hits in five strong. He tied a season high with seven strikeouts, and McGowan drove in two runs.
In the series finale, all it took was one third-inning miscue for Dodge City to seize control.
Garden City starter Kendrick Catron was cruising along, retiring eight of the first nine batters he faced. But with two outs in the third, Cook doubled to center; then came around to score on Alex Eskanezai's fielding error in left.
"We played well in a lot of these games," Finnegan said. "But that error really hurt us. Kendrick was sharp, and we should have been out of it."
Instead, the inning continued, and White doubled off the centerfield wall, scoring Onstott from first, and giving the Conquistadors a 2-0 lead.
Onstott provided some much-needed separation for Dodge City in the fifth.
After Cook hit a one-out single to center, the freshman took Ryder Yakel's 2-1 breaking ball and hammered it over the right-field wall.
"Since we hit this rut, once one thing goes bad, the rest goes bad," Finnegan said.
The Broncbusters managed to get back into the game in the seventh. Burns drew a six-pitch walk before advancing to third on Tyrus Barclay's double to the gap. Phil Stephenson then replaced his starter Foster Gifford with reliever Joe Milano. Bourget followed with a sac bunt that scored Burns, and Allen hit a deep fly ball to right that allowed Barclay to come across, cutting the Dodge City lead to 4-2.
Garden City made it a one-run game in the eighth when Lara grounded into a 4-6-3 double play, allowing Young, who led the frame off with a free pass, to score from third. But the Conquistadors added an insurance run in the top of the ninth, and it was White in the middle of everything again.
The sophomore pulverized Scott Watterman's offering to center, scoring Onstott from first, and giving the road squad a 5-3 advantage.
"Even trailing late in the game, we put ourselves in a position, like we did really throughout the whole series, to tie or win the game," Finnegan added.
Unfortunately for Finnegan's team, they could not catch a break in their last at bat.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Eskanezai singled to center before moving to third. With Allen at the plate, sophomore reliever Eric Lindsay threw a ball in the dirt that got away from Onstott and rolled back to the screen. Eskanezai made a bee line towards the dish, but the ball ricocheted right into the catcher's glove, and Eskanezai was gunned down at home plate.
"It was a close play, but if I would have argued it, I would have looked ridiculous," Finnegan said. "I had a poor angle."
Allen eventually walked and came around to score on a pass ball, Griffin Brunson drew a free pass before taking third on an indifference, and the Broncbusters had the tying run just 90 feet away. But after fouling off four straight pitches, Lindsay finally got Young to strike out on a high fastball to end the game.
"Robbie has had some really good at bats for us," Finnegan said. "It just didn't work out today."
Catron lost his first game of the season, pitching three strong innings, allowing two unearned runs. Yakel pitched four innings of relief, scattering eight hits while surrendering two runs.
Gifford was sharp for Dodge City, retiring the first eight batters he faced before giving up a two-out single in the third. He yielded two runs on three hits in six innings. Cook delivered three hits, and Onstott and White combined to knock in five runs.
Next up: Garden City at Lamar-Monday, March 26