By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-Since the beginning of conference play, Chris Finnegan's Broncbusters have been searching for that offensive spark that highlighted his team's first 19 games.
And all it took was Cloud County stepping foot into Williams Stadium on Saturday.
Jesse Gonzales drilled his second homer of the season while Connor Burns and Noah Foreman combined to stifle the Thunderbird bats as Garden City took the first two games from Cloud County 14-2 and 12-2.
"We knew it would be an interesting weekend because of the wind," Finnegan said.
In game one, the Broncbusters jumped all over Cloud County starter Drew Scrimsher in the first, and they did it all with two outs. Alex Nielsen and Clint Allen hit singles before Billy Clark reached on an error to the load the bases. Ty Barclay followed with a bases-clearing triple and Gonzales knocked in Clark to give Garden City (16-9, 4-2) a 4-0 advantage.
Cloud County (9-12, 0-6) produced their own two-out magic in the third when Matt Bondarchuk scored on Burns' balk, and Tauren Langley slapped an RBI double to cut the Broncbusters lead in half. But that's the only offense the Thunderbirds produced in the opener.
Garden City rallied in the bottom half, sending nine guys to the plate and scoring six runs. Gonzales ripped an RBI single, then came around to score an error committed by Cloud County second baseman Jacob Grady. Rafael Viella added a sacrifice fly, Nielsen torched a run-scoring double, Roberson came across on a passed ball, and Allen singled home one to make it 10-2.
"We just needed to play catch this weekend," Finnegan said. "I know it sounds like coach speak, but if we did that, we would be successful."
The Broncbusters put the game away in the fourth, spearheaded by Gonzales's two-run bomb off reliever Kolby Spicer. Ty Lightley scored on Alex Eskridge's RBI groundout and Viella plated Roberson when he rolled out to second base to push the lead to 14-2.
Burns finished off the complete-game, run-rule performance in the fifth. The sophomore allowed just two runs on three hits. He struck out five while throwing just 86 pitches.
Scrimsher took the loss for Cloud County, yielding 11 runs (three earned) on 11 hits in just three innings of work.
"I think our pitching is starting to come around," Finnegan said. "With the wind, this was definitely a good test."
There was no slowdown in Garden City's offense in game two.
Clark's two-out double in the first scored Conner Reynolds for a 1-0 lead. The Broncusters made it 3-0 in the second on the back of Eskridge's two-run, rope double that brought home Barclay and Gonzales.
"You're going to go through offensive funks throughout the season," Finnegan said. "The question is: how do you respond?"
Resoundingly in Garden City's case, who extended their cushion in the third. Allen's RBI triple, followed by run-scoring base hits by Gonzales and Lightley made it 6-0.
Cloud County got on the board in the top of the fifth on Ryan Kolikowski's RBI groundout and Garrett Graveline's two-out single that brought Langley around. But foreman derailed any attempt at a rally when he got Ryan Simons to line out to Eskridge at second.
In bottom of the frame, Nielsen singled, advanced to third on back-to-back balks called on Thunderbirds hurler David Johns; then scored when Allen poked a single to left. Clark added an RBI base hit before coming all the way around on Barclay's RBI groundout for a 9-2 lead.
Reynolds added an RBI hit in the fifth before putting the finishing touches on Garden City's second run-rule victory of the day when he laced a two-run double off of Cloud County reliever Daniel Bachura in the seventh.
Foreman, who has been plagued by slow starts in recent outings for the Broncbusters, improved to 2-2 on the season, allowing just two runs on two hits in five innings while striking out four. Dillan Feurestein tossed two innings of shutout relief.
"It will be different on Sunday because the wind will be blowing in," Finnegan said. "We'll see how that works out."
Next up: Garden City vs. Cloud County, Sunday, Mar. 12-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westernkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app