A couple of weeks after capturing their second straight Region VI championship, the Dodge City Community College baseball team was back on the field ready to take the next part of their journey this spring. Their win in the regional allowed the Conquistadors to host the Plains District tournament, which featured the region winners from Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri.
Dodge City wasn't given any favors with their opening matchup, a one-on-one battle with the defending national champions from Western Oklahoma State. Despite jumping out to an early 3-1 lead, a couple key errors from the Conqs opened up the flood gates in a 12-4 Pioneers win.
But in what became an elimination game for the home Conqs, they slugged their way into an outside shot of making it to the title contest as they slapped around the Lakers for a 12-7 win.
"In that game our backs were against the wall, our deal was to go with Wyndam (Williams) to begin game two and ride him as long as he was capable of getting them out," said head coach Phil Stephenson. "We kept finding ways to get on base and score runs, and we kept at it. When they finally made a couple of mistakes that allowed us to take the lead, we stayed on top of them."
In the opening game, Dodge City got off to a fast start with a 3-1 lead and Walker Rainwater on the mound. With the game on cruise control for the Conq defense, they ran into some trouble during the middle of the game.
After sitting down a couple of Pioneer batters, Western Oklahoma was given multiple shots at a fourth out thanks to a couple of fatal Conq errors. They eventually loaded the bases after those errors came into play, as they launched a back-breaking grand slam to turn what should have been a 1 or 2-run inning into a 9-run frame.
The Conqs were unable to come back from that deficit, eventually working a run onto the board in the top of the seventh with an RBI single from Cody Voelker.
With that loss, Dodge was put into their own elimination game with Longview out of Kansas City, Mizzou. The Lakers were playing their first contest of the day, while the Conqs needed a win or their season was no more.
Once again Dodge jumped to an early lead, putting up two runs in the bottom of the first thanks to a Voelker 2-run home run. An Austin Peterson solo shot tacked on another run for the Conqs, but they found themselves behind the Lakers 5-4 going into the fourth.
After Longview made it 6-4 going into the fifth, their own mental lapses allowed the Conqs to gain new life. Two Laker errors in the inning allowed Dodge City to bat around and put up three runs to take a lead they would never relinquish.
Page 2 of 2 - Freshman Connor Ross belted a 2-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to build the Conq lead up to 12-7, where reliever Sam Brunner threw the final 1 2/3 innings to close the door on a Dodge City victory.
"I told those guys that the first game was over with and there was nothing we could do about it, and now we win or go home — it's pretty simple," Stephenson said. "I thought the guys came out a responded pretty well."
Starting pitcher Wyndam Williams went the first 7 2/3 innings, keeping the Laker offense under control with a nice volume of offspeed pitches. Williams is the starting pitcher who threw a 7 inning no-hitter against Hesston College earlier this season.
Now that the Conqs have been assured another game, they will prepare for a rematch with the Pioneers, a squad they were fully capable of beating in the first contest. That matchup with Western Oklahoma State is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon at Cavalier Field.
More than likely, the Conqs will go with Kyle Myers on the mound against the Pioneers. Dodge City must win two games this afternoon to move on to the World Series, while one loss will end their season.
"What we need to do is not beat ourselves, if people beat us, than that's okay," Stephenson said. "Whether they outhit us, outfight us, outpitch us, we need to quit beating ourselves. We need to not allow them extra opportunities when they don't earn them."