Garden City Community College’s baseball team enters the Region VI tournament first round series this weekend as the overall No. 6 seed, which means the Busters take on the overall No. 11 seed in the 16-team bracket.
This year, that turns out to be the Fort Scott Greyhounds, who visit Williams Stadium for a best-of-3 series with the Busters, beginning with a doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by, if necessary, a 1 p.m. deciding game Sunday.
But that No. 11 seed by the Greyhounds is deceiving, as the club is not only 36-19 overall (18-18 in the Jayhawk East), but they are in the top eight of the region in both staff ERA (5.83) and runs scored per game (7.72). The Busters (41-14, 21-11), meanwhile, won their most regular season games since 2009, and are third in the conference in runs per game (9.22) and fourth in staff ERA (5.02).
“I think we’ll have our hands full,” GCCC head coach Chris Finnegan said of the Busters’ opponent. “I think we’ve got to be prepared to play. They’ll run two, three guys at us on the mound who are good, who have beaten good teams this year.”
At .500 in conference, the Greyhounds finished tied for fifth in the East Division, losing a tiebreaker to Allen County to fall to the East’s sixth seed. But that record comes against some of the best teams in the country, including being swept by former No. 1-ranked Neosho County.
“It shows you how good that side of the conference is,” Finnegan said of the East. “You look at Neosho, they’ve got unbelievable numbers. You have Cowley, Johnson (County) and KCK, and they’re always good.”
Those are the top four teams in the East’s standings, with a combined record of 163-59 overall.
“Your top four teams right there can beat anybody in the country, no questions asked,” Finnegan said.
And Fort Scott is liable to pull off an upset — seeding-wise — this weekend, as well, he said.
“I think it’s going to be a three-game set,” the 12th-year skipper said. “I think it’s two really good teams hooking it up. I think it’s two teams offensive-wise that can really hurt you. I think it’s two pitching staffs that can get some outs and I think it’s two defenses that can do enough to limit scoring chances.”
The Busters will start this year’s unquestioned ace, Noah Draper, in the opener. The sophomore right-hander is 7-1 with a 2.10 ERA — tops for starters in the Jayhawk — and 87 strikeouts in 64.1 innings. In games Draper has appeared (12 starts), the Busters are 13-1.
The Greyhounds will likely counter with Ryan McCollough, who is 7-3 with a 4.43 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 65 innings. His last outing was a complete game shutout win over Johnson County on April 29.
In Game 2, the Busters have tabbed Conner Burns, the freshman right-hander with a 4-1 record and a 3.76 ERA. He’s struck out 70 in 69.1 innings. The Busters are 9-4 in games he’s appeared. Fort Scott likely will rely on sophomore Matt Hicks in the nightcap. The right-hander is 7-1 with a 5.43 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 61.1 innings.
Finnegan is still undecided on the possible Game 3 starter, if the series were to reach Sunday’s game. The Busters’ bullpen is led by closer Ray Monje (six saves, 2.65 ERA) and oft-used right-hander Stephen Pagendarm. The sophomore is 5-1 with a team-leading 1.53 ERA in 17.2 innings, striking out 30.
Sophomore right-hander Nick Banman — who also is the starting first baseman — leads the Greyhounds’ bullpen with five saves, but has a sub-par 7.11 ERA in 19 innings. He’s also given up four home runs in limited action. The best pure reliever has been Avery Boehm, who has appeared in 16 games, tossing 26 innings with a 4.85 ERA.
But the pitching does not need to be perfect when the Fort Scott offense is as powerful as the Greyhounds. Led by sophomore second baseman Jacob Biller’s 15 home runs, the Greyhounds have hit the league’s second most round-trippers (79) this season. They’re also second in team slugging percentage (.554), well behind offensive juggernaut Neosho County in both categories.
Meanwhile, Garden City is fifth in slugging and has hit just 55 home runs this season. But the Busters are the second-best offensive club in the conference at getting on base, reaching at a .452 clip. And while home runs are down, the Busters are second in the conference in extra-base hits (225).
The Buster lineup, though featuring just one double-digit home run hitter, is extremely deep, with No. 9 hitter Alex Nielsen hitting .364 with seven home runs and 50 RBIs.
Of their nine usual hitters in the starting lineup, no batter has less than a .374 on-base percentage.
It all adds up to a solid match-up between the Busters and Greyhounds, Finnegan said.
“I just think if you’re an outsider looking in, I think you’d think it’s going to be pretty interesting,” he said.
Note: The previous time the Busters and Greyhounds met on the baseball diamond was in 2010, with the Busters winning both games against Fort Scott in the Cowley sub-regional.
Who: Fort Scott at Garden City C.C.
What: Region VI Tournament First Round, Best-of-3
When: Game 1, Saturday 1 p.m.
Fort Scott (36-19, 18-18)
Coach: John Hill III (8th year)
Pos.—Name Yr Avg. OBP
C—H Whitworth Fr. .270 .384
1B—N. Banman So. .343 .465
2B—J Biller So. .297 .428
3B—A. Tanous So. .396 .452
SS—D Crews Fr. .310 .400
LF—G Franklin So. .354 .421
CF—M Williams Fr. .319 .426
RF—D Hasch Fr. .257 .431
DH—J Andrade So. .437 .569
Pos.—Name Yr. Rec./Sv ERA
SP—R McCollough So. 7-3 4.43
SP—M Hicks So. 7-1 4.99
CL—N Banman So. 5 7.11
RP—B. Johnson Fr. 1-3 5.34
RP—A Boehm 1-3 4.85
Garden City (41-14, 21-11)
Coach: Chris Finnegan (12th year)
Pos.—Name Yr Avg. OBP
C—M Brown So. .408 .506
1B—K Lopez So. .429 .576
2B—C Krainock So. .289 .374
3B—A Nielsen Fr. .364 .468
SS—C Reynolds Fr. .309 .385
LF—S Kennedy So. .416 .544
CF—A Roberson Fr. .316 .472
RF—B Benson So. .338 .419
DH—J Gonzales Fr. .295 .384
Pos.—Name Yr. Rec./Sv ERA
SP—Noah Draper So. 7-1 2.10
SP—C Burns Fr. 4-1 3.76
CL—R Monje Fr. 6 2.65
RP—S. Pagendarm So. 5-1 1.53
RP—P. Muldrow So. 1-2 3.86