Overland Park, KS-Entering the postseason, Garden City Head Coach Chris Finnegan believed his path to victory was putting the ball in the hands of his top two arms. And while they ultimately fell short of reaching Wichita, both Malachi Crone and Eric Heiman gave the veteran coach exactly what he asked for: a chance.
Heiman held the Johnson County bats at bay for the first three-innings before Malik Williams tagged him for a two-run, go-ahead homer in the fourth, Trey Ziegenbein earned his 10th victory of the year, tossing a season-high nine innings of seven-hit ball, and the Cavaliers eliminated the Broncbusters with a 4-2 victory Friday afternoon in game two of the Region VI Tournament at Johnson County Stadium. The loss ended Garden City's season at 26-27.
"I mean, that's a really good team we just played," Finnegan said. "But I'm really proud of our guys. I liked our approach from the start. We gave ourselves a chance."
Indeed the Broncbusters didn't make it easy on the home team.
Johnson County took the early lead in the first when Landen Wood reached on an infield single; stole second; took third on a ground out and came home when Heiman's 0-2 breaking ball skipped away from catcher Brock Johnson for a 1-0 edge.
"It's finding that line of being too fine and making your pitch," Finnegan said. "We've been in that situation at times this season."
"We did some of the little things really well in this game," Finnegan said. "It showed."
After Heiman worked his only 1-2-3 inning in the second, the Broncbusters grabbed the advantage in the third. Turner McDonald led off with a double to left, Sean Klein singled him to third, and two batters later, Chris Lara hit a sacrifice fly to put Garden City on top 2-1.
"We always talk about the game of one," Finnegan said. "Just do one thing."
To that point, the Broncbusters had all the momentum. In the Johnson County third, Heiman worked around a leadoff single by inducing Garrett Wood into a 5-4-3 double play. He then struck out (Landen) Wood to retire the side.
But Garden City missed a chance to extend the lead in the fourth. Following Lathrop's leadoff single, Brunson moved him to second with a sacrifice bunt. The freshman eventually took third when Jake Barber grounded out. With an insurance run 90 feet away though, Brock Johnson waived at Ziegenbein's 1-2 changeup to douse the threat.
"I said it all series, we have to find a way to get a run there," Finnegan said. "And that's really the difference in the game."
And boy did the Cavaliers make the Broncbusters pay just a half inning later.
Anthony Amicangelo got on thanks to a slow-rolling grounder that was ruled an infield single. To that point, it was just the third hit off of Heiman. Two batters later, Williams took advantage of the sophomore hurler's lone mistake: an 0-2 fastball that was left up in the zone that the All-American blasted with a line-drive homer over the left-field fence. It was his 10th long ball of the season, one that seemed to stabilize the ship for a team that opened the year by winning 30 out of their first 32 games.
"Williams just got the bat barrel out there," Finnegan explained. "That's why he's good. We had everything setup, whether he swung at that pitch or not. But that's part of it when you play good teams with good players."
That singular moment not only changed the game, it appeared to stymie what was a pretty potent Garden City offense up until that point.
Ziegenbein worked around a two-out double in the fifth, getting Chris Lara to ground out on one pitch. They went down in order in the sixth; then watched Barber get hit by a pitch in the seventh only to get gunned down trying to steal third later in the inning. So to put it all in context-following Williams game-altering home run, Garden City scratched out just two hits over the final four innings.
"They got that home run, and it really changed things," Finnegan said. "But I thought Eric pitched really well."
The Cavaliers added some insurance in the sixth. Williams singled and came home on Jacob Owens' sacrifice fly, giving Johnson County enough wiggle room to finally put Garden City away.
Ziegenbein was far from perfect, but as the game went on, the Arkansas transfer started locating much better. His final line: 9 innings pitched, two runs on two hits and five punchouts. Williams tallied his 22nd multi-hit game, going 3-for-4 with two RBI.
Heiman lost for the fifth time this season, allowing four runs on six hits in six innings. Jacob Douglas tossed two innings of one-hit relief, and Barber broke out of a season-long four-game hitless streak with a 2-for-3 day.
"I'm really proud of how our guys fought," Finnegan said. "Again, they gave themselves a chance against a very good team."