By Tim Boulware
Kansas City, KS-It came down to the third and final game of their first round Region VI series and the final at-bat. Garden City took their chance and failed to score the go-ahead run. Kansas City capitalized with a game-ending double from one of their best hitters Albert Woodard, scoring catcher Drew Holtgrieve with the game-winning run and capturing the series with a 7-6 victory.
Garden City nearly rewrote the ending script by coming back from a 6-1 deficit through 4 innings and trailed 6-2 heading into the eighth.
For Kansas City, they started the contest just like they did the previous two games with a big second inning. Of the 26 runs they scored in the series, 10 of the Blue Devils runs came in the second inning. Unfortunately, Garden City starting pitcher, Nick Iossi making his second start of the season, was the victim this time.
After Rorey Combs, Easton Fortuna and Chase Reddick all singled to begin the second inning, an error from Alex Eskridge fielding a grounder at second allowed the first run to score. After Iossi forced third baseman Brandon Green to pop out to the catcher, Drew Holtgrieve turned an 0-2 count into a bases-loaded walk, and Albert Woodard knocked in two with a single to left.
Garden City finally touched up Kansas City starting pitcher Chad Cox with a run in the fourth. Limited to just a Clint Allen single over the first three innings, Jesse Gonzales walked with two outs and Allen doubled to make it a 4-1 lead for the Blue Devils. Rafael Villela followed up with a single, and Allen was thrown out by right fielder Chase Reddick trying to slide into home, preventing the Broncbusters from plating a second run in the fourth.
Iossi was lifted after giving up a two-out single in the fourth, and Dillan Feurestein was greeted with a homer by Tyler Pittman; his second of the series and third of the year. The two-run blast gave the Blue Devils a 6-1 lead. They would not score another run and would be held hitless over the next four innings.
While the Kansas City offense cooled off, Garden City's began to heat up.
With Cox remaining in the game, Villela, for the second straight game, had an RBI triple: Saturday's triple as part of a five-run first knocked in two and Sunday's to right-center scored Jesse Gonzales and pulled Garden City to within four at 6-2.
The Broncbusters tied it up in the eighth with a four-run inning. With one out, Gonzales, Allen and Villela all walked. Villela had a bases-loaded walk off reliever Julian Rivera making it a 6-3 game.
After Ty Barclay flied out, Ty Lightley cleared the bases with a double that hit off the base of the left-field wall. On the play, Garden City was helped out when leftfielder Josh Schmacher's foot appeared to slip in taking his first step. Regardless, the Broncbusters tied up the game that at one point, after four innings they trailed 6-1.
"Ty (Lightley) got a pitch that was elevated and pulled it down the line," Garden City Coach Chris Finnegan said. "The good thing was it was a full count so we had guys going. Raf (Villela) was busting his butt from first base and we got a shot to score him and we took it."
In the ninth inning, Garden City had the chance to grab the lead after getting a walk and an infield single putting Alex Nielsen and Gonzales on base off reliever Corey Cowan (6-1) a day after throwing four shutout innings. Clint Allen then singled to left and with Finnegan waving his arms in a windmill, tried to score Nielsen. Schmacher came up with a throw on target to home, and Holtgrieve laid on an easy tag at the plate. Villela made the final out grounding out to second.
"In the end you look at it and say you shouldn't have sent him (Nielsen)," Finnegan said. "But I did, and I had a gut feeling that it was time to roll, it was time to go. Unfortunately something perfect has to happen for them and it did."
Nick Ulmer (1-4), who had a spotless eighth inning, was able to get the first out when Brandon Green grounded out to short. After Holtgrieve was hit by a pitch, it set the stage for Woodard's game-ending double. For the series, Woodard went 7-of-13 with 6 RBI and six runs scored. Woodard has already signed on with Middle Tennessee State.
"We didn't get ahead (against Woodard)," Finnegan said. "If it is down, I think he still gets a base hit, but it was up in the zone. He's a good player. That whole offense runs off of him. When he's cooking, they're cooking."
Garden City, a year after ending the Blue Devils' season in Wichita, had their season end in Kansas City with a final record of 34-24. Kansas City captured their 40th win of the year to improve to 40-19 and will make the return trip to Lawrence Dumont Stadium for the second round of the Region VI tournament.