By Mike Pilosof
Hesston, KS-The Broncbusters earned a split on the road to begin the 2018 season.
Garden City used a four-run fourth to come-from-behind to beat Hesston 9-6 in game one before losing in a pitcher's duel in the finale 2-1.
"I felt like we started off the day really well," Head Coach Becky Gundy said afterwards.
Truth be told, the day couldn't have started any better. Ariel Denny led off the opener in grand style, crushing a 3-2 pitch off Ashley Yasin and planting it over the right-field fence.
"That was really a great way to start the season," Gundy said.
Garden City (1-1) wasn't finished in the first, thanks to Jessy Ortiz, who slapped a two-run single that gave the Broncbusters a 3-0 lead.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the third, when the Larks finally got to Garden City pitcher Samantha Akers. The sophomore gave up an RBI double to Kendall Richardson, which was followed up with a two-run single by Sam Amarante that tied the game at 3. Back-to-back run-scoring singles by Yasin and Sierrah Long had Hesston up 5-3.
"I thought Sam struggled a little bit," Gundy said. "We walked way too many kids. But overall, she was able to minimize that damage."
The third was the only blip on Akers' line all day, and the Broncbusters responded resoundingly the following inning. Denny quickly tied the game in the fourth with a two RBI single, Devin Hernandez singled home two more, and Garden City regained the lead for good 7-5. They added an insurance run in the fifth when Erica Vessels scored on a wild pitch; then plated their ninth run of the day in the seventh when Kelsey Ray singled home Vessels.
"I thought we did a great job of coming back," Gundy said. "Our defense played really well."
Akers allowed just one more run: a one-out single to Amarante in the sixth. She allowed six runs on seven hits, with eight strikeouts and seven walks. The sophomore retired the final five batters she faced.
Denney got the start in game two, and while she gave up two runs in the first, the freshman was solid, with just one of those runs being earned while scattering five hits. She struck out four and walked three.
"I thought we came out flat in game two," Gundy said. "Ariel walked a couple of batters early on; then really settled in after that."
An error, followed by back-to-back RBI singles by Richardson and Amarante, gave Hesston a 2-0 lead. After walking consecutive hitters with two outs, Denney got Jocelyn Chavez to bounce into a force play.
From there, Denney was nearly flawless. She worked around a walk in the third by inducing a double play before retiring nine out the final 10 batters.
"Offensively, we just didn't do our job," Gundy said. "I felt like we swung at pitches that we shouldn't have."
Trailing 2-0 in the seventh, Garden City put together a rally. Micaela Martinez reached on an error; Vessels followed with a single, and the Broncbusters had the tying run on with nobody out. After Nancy Wiebe, who was running for Martinez, was thrown out trying to steal third, Ortiz pushed Vessels across with an RBI groundout. But with the tying run at second, Ray flew out to center to end the game.
"It's good to get the first couple of games under our belt," Gundy said. "Now we know what to expect heading into Monday."
Kaylen Lassley got the win for Hesston in game two, allowing just one run on three hits in seven innings. She struck out five and walked three.
Next up: Garden City at Frank Phillips-Monday, Feb. 19 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.