By Mike Pilosof
Hutchinson, KS-In all reality, Chris Finnegan would have been much happier with a series split against the defending Jayhawk West champs. But considering how his team persevered in game four, all the lumps the Broncbusters took during a wild weekend seemed rather insignificant.
Corbin Truslow homered for the 11th time this season, Tyrus Barclay pushed across the go-ahead run late, and Garden City earned a split in the final two games with Hutchinson, losing the first 5-3 before taking the finale 8-5.
"In the end, we still lost three out of four games," Finnegan said. "But these guys kept playing hard. Eventually, if you keep playing hard, good things will happen."
His team's fight was apparent in game three. After starter Eric Heiman surrendered an RBI double to Logan Sartori and a run-scoring single to Dylan Nedved in the third, Garden City answered right back a half inning later. Darien Burns roped a two-out, RBI double to right, to slice the Blue Dragons lead in half.
"At some point in time, we have to quit giving in," Finnegan said. "We've lost 11 games by three runs or less."
The Blue Dragons extended their lead in the fourth when Zion Bowlin stroked a two-run single to make it 4-1. But as they did an inning earlier, Garden City (20-21, 6-14) responded quickly in the fifth. Griffin Brunson reached on a bunt single, and Clint Allen bunted him to second. Robbie Young followed with a perfect inside-out swing, sending a line shot the opposite way for a two-run single that pulled the Broncbusters to within one. But with runners at the corners and two outs with a chance to tie, Chris Lara lined out to Sartori at second base.
"I've said it all season that we have to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves," Finnegan said.
Garden City could have definitely used that run because with one out in the bottom of the fifth, Bobby Morgensen homered off of reliever Ryder Yakel, crushing a breaking ball over the right-field wall for a 5-3 lead.
"When you're having a year like this, you just have to keep battling," Finnegan said. "And that's what they did."
Garden City had a chance to tie the game in their final at bat after Brunson drew a leadoff walk against closer Dayden Lane in the seventh. Allen followed with a free pass of his own, and the Broncbusters had first and second with nobody out. Young hit a ball deep enough into center to advance Brunson to third before controversy struck.
With one out, Barclay hit a ground ball to Wyatt Divis at third. The sophomore flipped it to Sartori at second base. After the out had already been recorded, Allen slid hard over the bag, taking out the second baseman. After a short discussion, the umpires ruled it a 5-4 double play with interference. The full interpretation according to the rulebook: Allen deliberately interfered with Sartori; therefore ruling him and Barclay out.
"The umpire had a call to make," Finnegan said. "I didn't like it, but we had other opportunities during the game."
In hindsight, if the game would have continued, the runner would have scored from third, and Finnegan's best hitter, Truslow, would have come to the plate as the go-ahead run.
"That's how it goes," Finnegan said. "It's a judgement call."
Miguel Reyes notched the win for Hutchinson, allowing three runs on four hits in five innings. He struck out five while throwing 85 pitches. Nedved went 2-for-3 at the dish with an RBI, and Brock Schaffer was 2-for-2.
Heiman lost his second straight decision for Garden City, yielding four runs on seven hits in four innings. He walked four and struck out one. Young knocked in two runs and Burns was 1-for-3.
The final game of the series will serve as a reminder of just how much potential the Broncbusters have. And it was all powered by Truslow.
The freshman followed Young's single to right-center in the third with an RBI triple to the gap. In the process, Truslow showed off some pretty impressive wheels around the bases while extending his hitting streak to six straight games.
"We just have to close games better," Finnegan said.
Truslow's impressive afternoon continued in the sixth. After Barclay drew a six-pitch walk off of Divis, the freshman hammered a 1-1 offering into the trees overlooking the centerfield wall. It was, by all classification, a majestic beauty, traveling well over 400 feet. And it gave the Broncbusters a 4-0 lead.
While Truslow's bat fueled the offense, Kendrick Catron's left arm was busy shutting down the Blue Dragons.
The sophomore, who had surgery earlier this season and missed the first-half of games, held Hutchinson (21-16, 13-11) without a hit for 5 1/3 innings, displaying an array of off-speed pitches and breaking balls.
"Coming off surgery, we had a plan with Kendrick," Finnegan said. "It wasn't our plan to pitch him that long. We had to minimize something because we weren't going to let him throw 100 pitches."
The Blue Dragons finally got to Catron in the sixth. Divis walked, and then Morgenstern singled to right-center. After getting Zach Baxley to pop out for the second out, Schaffer doubled home a run to make it 4-1. The sophomore's day was done.
"We went to Jacob (Douglas), but we debated if we went to the well too much there," Finnegan said.
Douglas immediately surrendered a two-run double to Bowlin; then served up an RBI single to left to Scott Wolverton that tied the game, 4-4.
"It was really one pitch; that second double down the line," Finnegan said. "But it is what it is."
In games past, a blown lead might have spelled doom for the Broncbusters. Not this time.
Nick Iossi worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh by getting Schaffer to ground out to first. An inning later, Iossi worked out of trouble again, fanning Nedved to erase a two-on, two-out threat.
Hutchinson then completely imploded in the ninth.
Brunson hit an infield single with one out, Allen was hit by a pitch, and Young walked. Barclay followed with a high chopper to Divis at third. Brunson got a good jump, and as Divis's throw came home, the Garden City-native slid feet first as the ball skipped away from Wolverton, giving the Broncbusters the lead back, 5-4.
"They definitely gave us a couple of runs in that inning," Finnegan said. "But we gladly took them."
Garden City added three more of them, two of which came on errors by Divis at third and Nedved at short. The backbreaker though was when Lara struck out swinging on a nasty breaking ball from Zach Philbin. But as it spun into the dirt, Wolverton failed to smother it. Lara was safe at first, allowing another run to score.
"We took advantage of what they gave us," Finnegan said. "But we deserved this one."
Hutchinson did not go quietly in the ninth. Divis hit his third home run of the series: a solo shot to begin the frame. Two batters later, Baxley doubled to left, which promptly ended reliever Ryan Nason's day. Finnegan then put the ball in Yakel's hands, and the sophomore answered by getting Schaffer and Bowlin to line out to end the game.
"At the end of the day, we won the game," Finnegan said. "However it happened, it happened."
Iossi picked up the win in relief, throwing 50 pitches in two innings, but getting four big strikeouts. Catron, who took a no hitter into the sixth, gave up three runs on two hits. He walked four and struck out six. Truslow was 3-for-5 at the plate with three RBI.
Matt Hopkins took the loss for Hutchinson, serving up two runs on one hit in 1/3 of an inning. Nedved, who started the game, allowed two runs on four hits in five innings. Morgensen was 2-for-4, and Bowlin knocked in two runs.
Next up: Garden City at Pratt-Thursday, April 12-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app