Dodge City suffered their second loss of the Region VI on Saturday, ending their season.
Away from the small crowd of people who had filed out of the stands of historic Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita disappointed, a collection of white baseball caps, each one stained slightly with dirt and sweat, were lowered in frustration and a similar, yet deeper disappointment.
A season of overachieving and overcoming obstacle after obstacle had come to an end for the Dodge City Community College baseball team after suffering their second loss of the double-elimination Region VI tournament on Saturday.
The Kansas City Kansas Community College Blue Devils won a back-and-forth, 7-5 game that featured the Conquistadors leaving 11 men on base after leaving 12 men on base in the previous day’s loss versus Johnson County Community College on Friday.
“Well you just gotta hope you get a hit somewhere,” head coach Phil Stephenson said. “Guys wanted to get hits, I know they wanted to get hits. Sometimes you’ve got to give pitchers credit. Unfortunately for us, in these two days, we got a few but we didn’t get enough when we needed them, especially with two outs.”
Dodge City started out strong grabbing a run in the first and second inning to take a 2-0 lead but Kansas City scored five runs unanswered thanks to two-run innings in the fourth and sixth innings off of Conquistador sophomore starter Cole Brandon.
“I don’t think he was as sharp,” Stephenson said. “He missed a couple of times with two strikes and guys got hits.”
Brandon went six innings, giving up five runs on nine hits.
A big seventh inning for Dodge City led to sophomore first baseman Talon Schaller and freshman designated hitter Gavin Gifford bringing home three runs to tie it up at 5.
The two RBI’s for Schaller would tie the school record for RBI’s in a single season with 75.
After freshman reliever Jonny Chavez masterfully escaped one-out bases loaded situation in the bottom of the seventh, four straight hits in the bottom of the eight allowed Kansas City to retake the lead.
“The biggest difference was they took advantage of a couple of mistakes that happened,” Stephenson said. “We weren’t able to when we got in those situations.”
The Conquistadors would go in order in the top of the ninth, ending their season.
“I’m proud of this team and all of the things they’ve accomplished,” Stephenson said. “I was telling them that the sophomores have won 79 games in their two years and there’s only one other group that’s won more in my tenure or anybody’s tenure. They’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
In addition to that feat, the Conquistadors won 21 league games for the first time and all of that came after being saddled with major injuries and personnel losses going into the spring.
“We had so many injuries in the fall,” Stephenson said. “Guys we thought would be big cogs in our lineup. Guys stepped up. Talon Schaller had a great year, Brayden Cook had a great year, Cade Engle had a great year, Dauson Tate, another freshman, had a great year, Jake Pederson put together a solid year just like he did a year ago. Richard Fullerton, the list goes on and on.”
“This group got the closest to getting the most out of their ability than any group that I’ve had. You hope to see it every year but you don’t always do it.”
Back at Lawrence-Dumont, a few players piped up to offer words of encouragement and thanks to fellow teammates and coaches and several others did their best to keep their emotions in check. For multiple members of that sophomore class, their collegiate baseball career is over while others have four-year institutions waiting for them at the start of the next school year.
The Conquistadors grew with each other this season, through adversity, through injury and through postponements upon postponements thanks to uncooperative weather.
“You’re with guys for nine months and you hate to see anything come to end when you’re with a group like that,” Stephenson said. “You see how the guys grow individually and you see how they bond and get together. These last five years we’ve had teams that have molded together and I think from a program standpoint, things are going well and it’s going to continue that way. As much as I’m disappointed to see the season come to an end, I’m happy for this group of guys for how things finished up.”
A deep postseason run may not have been in the cards for this Dodge City team, but the memories that will endure have already been made. The sweat and the dirt will wash off from those white baseball caps and the frustration and disappointment will, in time, fade from the memories made this season.