By Mike Pilosof
Concordia, KS-As good as Eric Heiman was in game one, Malachi Crone may have just topped his teammate in Thursday's night cap, creating a pretty scary 1-2 punch at the top of Chris Finnegan's rotation.
Crone tossed a season-high seven-inning, four-hit shutout, Jacob Douglas picked up his team-best eighth win, and Garden City completed a road sweep of Cloud County 2-1 Thursday afternoon at Lee Doyen Field.
"I thought about bringing Malachi back out for the eighth," Finnegan said. "But in the past, when he's been cruising and we bring him back for one more inning, something bad happens. He was really good, and we felt comfortable taking him out."
Crone was not good; he was great. He set down the final 10 batters he faced and left after the seventh having thrown just 90 pitches.
"I think our guys saw the angry me the last few days," Finnegan said. "I told them to stop worrying about everything else and worry about the next at bat; the next thing you can do to help us win the game."
Game two was a perfect example of Finnegan's do-anything-to win philosophy. Although, the Broncbusters benefited from the only blunder committed by Thunderbirds' starter Joseph Karall.
Brenden Andersen drew a one-out walk in the top of the second; then took second on a wild pitch and moved to third on Chris Lara's single. With Brock Johnson at the plate, Karall had a slight hitch before coming home with a breaking ball, forcing the umpire to call a balk, and scoring the game's first run.
That 1-0 advantage stuck for some time, thanks to Crone, who surrendered his final hit: a two-out single to Griffin Larsen in the fourth. Then he began his most dominating stretch of pitching all season by getting Alex Rice to line out to Dyan Rodriguez at short. In the fifth, he threw just 11 pitches to get three outs; he tossed just nine in the sixth while striking out Kyler Charchun and Davis Pratt. But the seventh was his most efficient: a seven-pitch gem that had the freshman hurler barely breaking a sweat.
The Broncbusters appeared to have added an insurance run in their half of the seventh when Johnson singled to left. Alec Eskenazi came flying around third, but Charchun fired a pellet from left field that Larsen gobbled up at home plate before applying the tag on the sophomore left fielder.
"That's a good team that we beat," Finnegan said. "They deserve a lot of credit. These games weren't easy by any stretch."
That play loomed large when Jacob Douglas was called upon to pitch the eighth. A throwing error by Dyan Rodriguez and a passed ball, moved Connor Laux into scoring position with two outs, setting the table for Jackson Dietel, who slapped an RBI single into left field to tie the game.
"I decided that I needed to stop calling pitches for Jacob Douglas," Finnegan said. "He's been here long enough that he knows what he's doing. Once we made that change in the ninth, he was a different pitcher."
Before Douglas was afforded the chance to slam the door, Garden City needed to reclaim the lead. They did just that in their half of the ninth. Dakota Finley reached on an infield single; then moved to second on Andersen's sacrifice bunt. That set the stage for Lara, who smoked reliever Trey Asher's curveball into left field, scoring the go-ahead run.
"It was definitely a grind," Finnegan said. "But, that's how you beat good teams."
As for Douglas, he was lights out in the home half, getting Josh Laukkanen to hit a comebacker before inducing a pop out and a game-ending strikeout.
Finley and Lara each collected two hits for Garden City, who have now won 21 out of the last 24 games in Concordia. Douglas struck out three in relief.
Asher took the loss for Cloud County, giving up one run on four hits in three innings. Karall surrendered just one run on four hits in six innings.
Next up: Garden City vs. Cloud County-Saturday, April 27-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app