By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-All season long, Garden City has been searching for consistency. And after winning five straight games, the Broncbusters appeared like they were headed in the right direction.
But a day filled with mishaps and a lack of offense put a halt to Garden City's most impressive stretch of the year.
Joseph Kuhn smacked two homers, Seward County hit four as a team, and the Saints took the first two games from the Broncbusters 9-5 and 13-9 Thursday afternoon at Williams Stadium.
"We just didn't pitch the ball well at all today," Garden City Head Coach Chris Finnegan said. "I mean, it's really as simple as that."
Starter Austin Stone struggled with his fastball and his secondary pitches in game one. And Seward County (23-25, 10-16) took full advantage.
After the Broncbusters scored in the first on Corbin Truslow's sacrifice fly, the Saints answered in the second. Jose Caraballo laced a two-out, RBI single to left-center that tied the game. An inning later, Stone left a breaking ball over the heart of the plate that Cayde Ward crushed for a two-run homer, putting Seward County up 3-1.
"Austin's fastball was flat and his secondary pitches didn't have much life to them," Finnegan said. "And when that happens, pitches get left over the heart of the plate."
In the fifth, Stone gave up a leadoff double to Brendan Madsen and a run-scoring single to Ward that bumped the Seward County edge to 5-1. The redshirt freshman hurler ended the day allowing five earned runs on seven hits. He threw 97 pitches in five innings.
"Our pitching just was off," Finnegan said. "But I guess the silver lining is that these guys never quit. And they've been fighting all year."
Unfortunately that fight did not translate into offense. After Clint Allen's leadoff single in the first, the Broncbusters failed to get another hit until the sixth. By that time they were already in a 7-1 hole.
"We just couldn't take advantage of scoring opportunities today," Finnegan said. "We've been inconsistent all year."
Garden City (24-23, 10-16) showed some life in the sixth. Starter Tanner King hit the first two batters he faced; then issued a four-pitch walk to Robbie Young. After getting ahead of Tyrus Barclay 0-2, the freshman pitcher made his only mistake of the game, leaving a fastball up that the Broncbuster catcher pulverized over the leftfield wall for a grand slam, slicing the Saints lead to 7-5.
"Even with all of our struggles, we put ourselves in a position to get back in it in both games," Finnegan said.
The inning continued when Truslow was hit by a pitch. Chris Lara bunted him over to second, and the Broncbusters had the tying run at the plate with one out. But Darien Burns grounded out to third, and Ty Lightley struck out looking on a borderline pitch to end the threat.
"In that situation, you have to score," Finnegan said. "That's how it was all day."
Trailing by two, the Garden City bullpen failed to keep it close. Ryan Nason yielded a single to Ward and a walk to Kuhn to begin the seventh. Finnegan then replaced him with Ryder Yakel, who surrendered a sac fly to Dylan Paul before Spencer Sacket doubled off the wall in center that made it 9-5.
"I think the hardest thing to swallow is how we fought back and could never get over the hump," Finnegan said."
The Broncbusters started to put a rally together in the seventh after Russell Cruz and ReJean Bourget reached to begin the frame. But Allen struck out looking, and Young bounced into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.
King picked up the win for the Saints, who ended a six-game losing streak to the Broncbusters. He allowed five runs on just two hits in five innings. Ward was 4-for-4 at the plate and knocked in three runs.
Scott Waterman, Nason and Yakel, gave up a combined four earned runs in two innings. Allen and Barclay provided the only hits.
There were more pitching woes in game two.
After a 1-2-3 first inning, Broncbuster starter Paxton Robinson had an inauspicious second. Paul led off with a double to right, and Kuhn followed with a two-run shot to left, giving the Saints a 2-0 edge.
"It wasn't just one guy; our pitchers just didn't have it today," Finnegan explained.
Meantime Seward County starter Cole Evans was dealing, retiring the first eight batters he faced before running into trouble in the third. With two outs in the stanza, Allen walked. Young punched an RBI base hit to left-center; moved to third on Barclay's double to the gap; then scored on a wild pitch. Lara capped the inning with a run-scoring single, and Garden City had a 3-2 advantage.
But as quickly as they built the lead is how fast it dissipated. Ben Tsui's two-out, two-run single in the fourth off Nick Iossi put the Saints up for good. In the fifth, Seward County made short work of Jacob Douglas. Kuhn and Bergdall each drilled two-run homers, fueling a five-run frame that put Seward County on top 9-3. Benny Ayala hit an RBI single in the sixth, and Paul doubled home a pair that gave the Saints a nine-run cushion.
The Broncbusters chipped away in the sixth, sending 10 guys to the plate and scoring four runs on three hits, including Lara's leadoff homer to left. But the Saints added an insurance run in the eighth on Paul's RBI single.
Robinson took the loss for Garden City, giving up four runs on four hits in three innings. Barclay collected two hits, and Allen and Young combined for five RBI.
Evans, the Liberal-native, surrendered four runs on four hits in five innings en route to his sixth victory of the season. Paul tied a season-high with four hits, and Kuhn tallied his second multi-homer game of the season.
Next up: Garden City at Seward County-Saturday, April 21-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app