By Mike Pilosof
Hutchinson, KS-Zane Schmidt entered play Thursday second in the conference in home runs. Seven innings later, not only did he take over the lead, he created some separation and then some.
Schmidt became the first Blue Dragon since Michael Helmer to drill three homers in a game, which included a two-run walk-off bomb in the bottom of the seventh, as Hutchinson downed Garden City 8-7 in their series opener at Hobart-Detter Field.
"Zane was just locked in," Broncbusters Coach Chris Finnegan said. "I don't care what level you're playing at, that was impressive."
As incredible as Schmidt's day was, his first two at bats left a lot to be desired as he watched strike three whistle past him on back-to-back occassions. But the freshman more than atoned for that later on.
Meantime, the Broncbusters hustled their way to an early lead. Sean Klein pulverized a ball to center for a two-out, RBI double in the third to get Garden City on the board. Corbin Truslow followed with a mammoth two-run shot to left-center, and the Broncbusters were up 3-0.
"As emotional as that is, losing a game like that, you have to stay pretty centered," Finnegan explained. "And that's tough. The guys felt like they should have won the game, but you have to finish. We have to learn how to do that."
Garden City added what seemed like an insurance run in the fifth when Brenden Andersen drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 4-0. But trouble struck in the home half. Will Reetz was hit by a pitch and Logan Sartori reached when Dakota Finley bobbled a ball at third. That set the table for Schmidt, who lasered Eric Heiman's 0-1 pitch well over the well in center, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
"We gave up way too many barrels today," Finnegan said.
Later in the frame, Andrew Sumner replaced Heiman. But the freshman sidewinder surrendered a hit to Max McGuire and an infield RBI single to Zach Baxley that tied the game. After one pitch to Jeremiah Ceasar, Finnegan had seen enough and motioned to the guy that's been his most consistent arm all season: Jacob Douglas.
"Jacob has been fantastic for us all season," Finnegan added. "He's won six games in a row. That doesn't happen very often."
The sophomore got Ceasar to pop out to Griff Brunson at short; then watched as Jake Barber make a leaping catch at the fence to rob Will Reetz of a game-altering grand slam, keeping the game tied.
"I don't know if that ball would have went out," Finnegan said. "But that was a great play by Jake."
Garden City responded in the sixth with a three-run frame, sparked by Sean Klein's two-out, two-run homer to left that gave the Broncbusters a 7-4 advantage.
"I don't want to say we were on cruise control," Finnegan said. "But we just didn't finish."
Hutchinson was far from finished.
Schmidt cranked his second homer of the afternoon in the sixth to make it a one-run game, setting up for a dramatic finish. In the Blue Dragons' seventh, Finnegan was faced with a critical decision.
With two outs and a runner at first, Schdmit made the long stride to home plate from the Hutchinson on-deck circle. At the same time, Finnegan called time to go out and talk to Douglas. It was either walk the Blue Dragons' best hitter, or allow Garden City's best pitcher to face him.
"The decision was pretty simple, and I know hindsight is 20/20," Finnegan said. "But Jacob has been doing this all year. We trusted him."
Unfortunately, Douglas proved human, and Schmidt made him pay, tattooing a fastball to right-center, that landed just out of the reach of Grant Lathrop's glove and over the fence for a game-winning, two-run home run.
"That's what happens in baseball," Finnegan said. "It was bound to happen sometime."
Schmidt set a new career-high with six RBI, finishing 3-for-5 at the plate with three runs scored. Zach Philbin picked up the win in relief for Hutchinson, who beat Garden City for the eighth time in their last nine meetings.
Douglas streak of four straight games without allowing a run came to an end, as did a streak that saw him win six straight decisions. He allowed four runs on five hits in 2.1 innings.