By Mike Pilosof
Great Bend, KS-In baseball, great defense normally wins you games. But when you're facing one of the top staffs in the Jayhawk Conference, you have to play nearly perfect. And as Garden City Coach Chris Finnegan pointed out, his team was just a click off.
Easton Smith followed up Zach Curry's strong start in game one, with one of his own in game two, allowing just one run over 6 1/3 innings, as Barton took down the Broncbusters 4-1 in game two of their four-game set Friday afternoon at Lawson-Biggs Field.
"I thought we played well for most of game two," Finnegan said. "But give Barton a lot of credit. That's why they're so good. They've got good arms."
As Curry did in the opener, Smith was nearly flawless to begin the game, yielding a leadoff walk to Jake Barber in the first; then not allowing a hit until Corbin Truslow doubled to left with two outs in the fourth.
The Cougars meantime got going early. Nolan Riley's sacrifice fly in the first put Barton up 1-0. In the second, Tyler Bandiera ripped a double to center before Trenton Ferguson reached on a strikeout and passed ball. After Noah Rheinheimer struck out looking, Brett Erickson laid down a perfect bunt, scoring Bandiera from third. Two batters later, Andrew Stewart singled home a run, and Barton had a 3-0 advantage.
"I was very interested to see how we would play defense today," Finnegan admitted. "We played defense pretty well in certain situations, but we didn't pitch it very well in other situations."
"This all goes back to having to play, getting out on the field," Finnegan said. "We haven't done that in a few weeks. We had some different things scripted, but at the end of the day, you have to go out and play."
The Broncbusters scored their lone run in the sixth. Barber doubled to deep center, and Turner McDonald hit a sac fly. But as they did earlier in the day, Garden City could not convert a couple of chances late in the game.
Garden City had two on and one out with the tying run at the plate in the seventh. But Patrick McClure, who replaced Smith, got Stone to fly out to center. Joe Richter then came in and struck out pinch hitter Chris Lara on a fastball. An inning later, the Broncbusters had two on and nobody out. But three times the tying run came to the plate with no success. McDonald bunted the runners over before Truslow flew out to left, and Klein struck out looking.
"I told these guys that we have to be back on time by the fourth game of this series," Finnegan said. "I mean foul balls today, were doubles to the gap a couple of weeks ago."
The Broncbusters were never afforded much of a chance in the ninth as Howe, who broke Barton's program record with 29 appearances during the Cougars 47-win campaign in 2018, retired Garden City in order.
Smith improved to 3-0, fanning five while scattering four hits. Then the bullpen, which entered the series with a 1.50 combined earned run average, held Garden City scoreless over three innings.
Darrian Escobar Winter dropped to 0-2, giving up three runs on four hits in three innings.
Next up: Garden City at Barton-Saturday, March 9-10:45 a.m. pregame; 11 a.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app