By Mike Pilosof
Garden City, KS-After the first two games against a top-20 opponent, the Broncbusters made their case as one of the Jayhawk's best squads. And they did it in completely contrasting styles.
Billy Clark and Jesse Gonzales each knocked in two runs in the opener while Ty Barclay's sacrifice fly in the 12th inning of game two finished off a day-one sweep of 18th-ranked Barton County 4-1 and 15-14 Saturday afternoon at Williams Stadium.
In game one, Garden City starter Connor Burns turned in an absolute gem.
The sophomore allowed just one run while scattering eight hits in a complete-game effort that gave Chris Finnegan's bullpen a much-needed break.
"We will find out a lot about this team," Finnegan said. "We needed our arms to help us out."
Mission accomplished. His offense was not too shabby either.
Clint Allen's RBI triple in the first gave the Broncbusters a 1-0 advantage. After Barton County (21-9, 5-5) knotted the score in the fourth on Brady Michel's RBI hit, Garden City (22-12, 10-4) regained the lead, thanks to a three-run fifth.
Alex Eskridge doubled and scored on Aeneas Roberson's sharp single to center to make it 2-1. After Conner Reynolds lined out to center, Alex Nielsen followed with a base hit. Allen then worked a nine-pitch walk to load the bases.
"We gave ourselves opportunities to score," Finnegan said. "We had to take advantage."
Clark did just that, poking a two-run single into right field for a 4-1 cushion.
"Barton County is an explosive offense," Finnegan added. "We had to be able to match them."
It helped that Burns' fastball was eating up Cougar hitters. After yielding a run in the fourth, the Canadian hurler set down seven of the final nine hitters he faced, allowing a fifth-inning double to Michael Sinks and seventh-inning single to the Barton County second baseman. In the end, Burns improved to 5-1 on the season.
Garrett Rogers took the loss for Barton County, allowing four runs on nine hits in 5 1/3 innings of work. He walked three and struck out three.
Game two took on a life of its own.
The Broncbusters built an early lead again. Roberson scored on a passed ball in the first, and Clark tripled and scored in the second for a 2-0 advantage.
But the Cougars responded with a bang. Taylor Langston's three-run blast off Noah Foreman in the third put Barton County on top for the first time 3-2. Unfortunately for Foreman, his troubles were just beginning.
The sophomore gave up a two-run jack to Sinks in the fourth and a single to Michel that ended his day. Reliever AJ Stephens replaced Formean but did not fare any better. After walking back-to-back hitters, the freshman plunked Kaden Fowler, allowing Michel to score from third to make it 6-2. Dillan Feurestein came on to relieve Stephens and promptly struck out Taylor Langston. But Bryce Baumwart followed by roping a three-run double to the gap that gave the Cougars a 9-2 advantage. Paul Claassen added an RBI single, and Barton County had what appeared to be an insurmountable 10-2 lead.
"In this league, anything can happen," Finnegan said. "You just have to keep grinding."
Garden City began to chip away at that deficit in the bottom of the fourth. The first seven Broncbusters reached base in the frame. Nielsen scored on Sinks error at second before Gonzales drilled a two-run single to center to close the gap to 10-4. Another error allowed Barclay to come home and Eskridge singled in Gonzalez to make it 10-6. Eskridge closed the inning with a run-scoring single that cut the margin to three.
The Cougars stretched the lead back to four in the fifth when Langston singled home Trey Pittman. But Garden City responded quickly in the bottom half. Barclay laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt that brought home Allen from third and Clark scored on Sinks' second error of the afternoon to make it 11-9.
Barton County countered with two more in the sixth before the Cougar bats went cold the rest of the way.
Garden City made it a one-run game in the sixth. Barclay's two-out, two-run double coupled with pitcher Brant Millerbor's error that allowed Barclay to score, pulled the brown and gold to within one 13-12. The Broncbusters proceeded to tie the game in the eighth when Nielsen took reliever Dawson Pomeroy deep.
"We just had to silence their bats," Finnegan said. "Once we did that, it gave us a chance. You can't keep scoring and allowing runs."
The game remained tied until Pomeroy smashed a solo home run off Broncbuster reliever Ray Monje in the 11th. But an error and a couple of walks loaded the bases in the bottom half before Roberson's sac fly tied the game at 14-14.
Barcaly finished off the improbable comeback in the 12th.
Nielsen led off the inning with a double and Allen was intentionally walked. Pomeroy then hit Clark to load the bases before Barclay took a 2-1 pitch and lifted it to left field, deep enough to allow Nielsen to trot home from third for the game winner.
"It says a lot about this team," Finnegan said of his team's comeback from eight runs down. "This game is pretty simple when you do things right."
Danny Weagle picked up the win in relief, walking one in one inning of work. He did not allow a hit.
Cole Henley took the loss for Barton County, serving up the game winner.
The two teams combined for four home runs and 34 hits in the finale. Barton County committed a season-high errors while the squads left a total of 24 men on base.
Next up: Garden City vs. Barton County-Sunday, Mar. 26-12:45 p.m. pregame; 1 p.m. first pitch on 99.9 FM; westenkansasnews.com/kwkr and KWKR mobile app