Last weekend, the Garden City Broncbusters baseball team all but assured themselves of a Region VI tournament berth with a four-game sweep of Pratt.
But the Busters took a step back Thursday as Seward County visited Williams Stadium. The Saints came into the day in eighth place, while the Busters were in seventh in the KJCCC West standings.
By the end of the day, the two teams were tied in the standings as the Saints swept the opening doubleheader, 9-5 and 13-9.
In each game, the Busters (24-23, 10-16) held early leads, only to see them quickly evaporate in big rallies by the Saints (23-25, 10-16).
“It’s difficult,” GCCC head coach Chris Finnegan said. “Game 1, we fight back to 7-5, and we give it right back to them … And then we find ourselves up 3-2 in Game 2, and we give up 10 unanswered. We didn’t pitch it very well at all today. We didn’t pitch it at all.”
The two teams meet again at 1 p.m. Saturday in Liberal.
Seward County 9, Garden City 5
Clint Allen led off the first with a single, and scored on Ty Barclay’s sacrifice fly two batters later to give the Busters a quick 1-0 advantage.
But the Saints scored seven runs between the second and sixth innings to take a 7-1 lead off starter Austin Stone — who went five innings and gave up five runs on seven hits — and reliever Scott Waterman — who gave up two runs in the sixth — before Barclay turned on a 1-1 pitch for a grand slam in the bottom of the sixth, cutting the deficit to just 7-5.
Two runs felt surmountable in the seventh and final inning for the Buster offense, but not four. GCCC reliever Ryan Nason allowed a single and a walk to the Saints to lead off the seventh, and both runs came around to score to reach the final 9-5 margin.
“Austin didn’t have great stuff today, but he battled and kept us in it,” Finnegan said.
But the bullpen faltered.
“You obviously don’t want that to happen this weekend with this series,” Finnegan said, referring the Busters’ solid pitching effort against Pratt in the sweep. “You’ve got to stay focused. Just because you had success one time doesn’t mean you’re going to have success every time.
“This is a much better team than Pratt. No disrespect to them or anything like that, but the big picture, their arms are better, they’re better offensively and their athleticism is better than Pratt.”
Seward County 13, Garden City 9
Joseph Kuhn’s two-run home run in the second gave Seward County an early 2-0 lead, but the Busters responded with three runs in the third — all came with two outs — to grab a 3-2 advantage. But Buster starter Paxton Robinson couldn’t hold onto it, giving up a single and a double to lead off the fourth inning, before being pulled without recording an out in the frame.
Both runners came around to score, and the Saints were back on top.
And the Saints continued to rally. Kuhn hit another two-run home run in a five-run fifth, and a couple of errors in the sixth led to three more Saints’ runs, and a 12-3 lead.
Chris Lara hit a home run to begin a four-run rally for the Busters in the sixth, but it was not nearly enough to eclipse the Saints’ advantage.
The Busters scored two more runs in the ninth, but that was not enough, either, as the Saints held on to the win and the doubleheader sweep, making Saturday’s twin bill at Seward County (1 p.m. start) pivotal.
“Once you put yourselves behind the eight-ball like we had weeks ago, every series is important. Every win is important. We’ve got to find a way to win Game 1 on Saturday. That’s the goal,” Finnegan said.
After Seward County, the Busters take on Colby on April 26 and 28 for the final conference series of the season. The Saints play Hutchinson in theirs. Colby and Hutchinson are tied for third in the KJCCC West, making Saturday a likely deciding factor in how the Saints and Busters finish in the West Division.