By BRETT MARSHALL
In what can only be described as the unlikeliest of softball doubleheaders, the Garden City High School Lady Buffs and the Great Bend Lady Panthers came away Thursday from Tangeman Sports Complex with a split of the Western Athletic Conference games.
There was nothing similar to the two WAC games, as the Lady Panthers pummelled the Lady Buffs 16-1 in the opener before the Lady Buffs rallied with two runs in the bottom of the seventh to win the second game, 5-4.
There were plenty of heroines for the Lady Buffs in that dramatic second game triumph, the biggest being junior Jamie St. Clair.
She drove in Kennedy Brunson with a two-out single to right off reliever Hunter Middleton (the Game 2 winner), scoring Kennedy Brunson after Haley Saldana had tied the game at 4-4 with a one-out solo home run three batters ahead of St. Clair. Earlier, St. Clair had belted a pair of solo home runs to keep the Buffs on the heels of the Panthers.
Great Bend had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning of Game 2.
The Lady Buffs scratched out one run in their half of the first when Brunson singled, stole second, and came home on Mekayla Guerrero’s RBI single.
Pitchers Dusti Befort for the Lady Buffs and Braylin Betz of Great Bend both kept the other team’s offense at bay most of the game.
Great Bend made it 3-1 in the fourth, but the Lady Buffs bounced right back to score when St. Clair took the first pitch from Bretz and put it over the right-centerfield fence. She then tied the score at 3 with another opposite field home run in the sixth.
“I just saw the ball really well today,” said St. Clair, who went 5-for-6 in the twinbill with the two home runs and a pair of doubles in the opener. “I saw the outside pitches and just went with it. I’m always a pull hitter but coach (Trinia Moquett) has been working with me to go the other way and it just worked out.”
Not much had gone right for the Lady Buffs during the first game, and certainly trailing for much of Game 2 didn’t bode well for them on another wind-swept day. Great Bend hitters seemingly had seeing-eye hits all day, while Garden’s hardest hit balls were right at Lady Panther defensive players.
“It was nice to see one in our favor,” Moquett said of St. Clair’s game-winner. “They caught some stingers off our bats all day. I guess sometimes it just works out that way. Jamie had a really good day. We’ve been working on getting her to extend through the ball and it was nice to see her be successful.”
Sophomore pitcher Dusti Befort kept her unbeaten string alive, winning her fifth game against no losses. She went the distance, giving up six hits while walking just one. She had six strikeouts and hit one batter.
“She’s cool, calm and collected,” Moquett said of Befort. “There were times where as a sophomore she could have got rattled. You expect them to be nervy at times, but she made a lot of clutch pitches and helped her team win this one.”
Then, there was Saldana.
After going hitless in her first three at-bats, Saldana finally singled in the fifth, but was stranded on base. In her final at-bat in the seventh, Saldana took an 0-1 pitch and lofted it deep over the left centerfield fence to tie the game and breathe new life into the Lady Buffs.
“She hadn’t had a good two games all the way around, so it was great to see her come up big,” Moquett said of Saldana. “She gave us the home run that was huge for us.”
Game 1 was simply one of those that when it was over, Moquett told her team to have short-term memory.
“We could have gone the other way after Game 1,” Moquett said. “But the girls came back and gave their best effort. We were never in the driver’s seat. Game 1 was not a good team game. It was kinda like a circus out there, execpt there wasn’t anything funny about it. I told the girls that they could sulk for two minutes and then forget about it. They bought in.”
While Middleton limited the Buffs to just four hits, Great Bend’s offense pelted starter Kori Thornton for 19 hits. Five fielding errors and numerous mental mistakes also hurt. Thornton struck out four and walked four in her first loss of the season.
Great Bend scored two in the first, three in the second and third and plated eight more in the fifth to eventually see the game end mercifully on the 10-run rule after five innings.
At the end of the day, though, the Lady Buffs walked off on equal footing with Great Bend, both now at 3-1 in the WAC. Overall, the Lady Buffs are 9-1 while Great Bend is 7-3. The Lady Buffs were on the road today for a 4 p.m. doubleheader at Dodge City. They are back home on Monday for a 4 p.m. doubleheader with Goddard Eisenhower.
Great Bend 233 08 — 16 19 1
Garden City 100 00 — 1 4 5
WP—Middleton (4-1) and H. Mauler; LP—Thornton (4-1) and Greenlee. 2B—Great Bend (Middleton, Kaylie Doll), Garden City (St. Clair 2). HR—Great Bend (Kelsie Doll, Dreiling). LOB—Great Bend 8, Garden City 6. RBI—Great Bend (Kaylie Doll 1, M. Mauler 1, Kelsie Doll 2, Middleton 3, Dreiling 3); Garden City 0.
Great Bend 200 100 1 — 4 6 1
Garden City 100 101 2 — 5 9 4
WP—Befort (5-0) and Greenlee; LP—Middleton (4-2) and Sanders. 2B—Great Bend (Bretz, Boultinghouse), Garden City (Curran). 3B—Great Bend (Kaylie Doll). HR—Garden City (Saldana 1, St. Clair 2). RBI—Great Bend (Kaylie Doll 1, M. Mauler 1), Garden City (St. Clair 3, Guerrero 1, Saldana 1). LOB—Great Bend 6, Garden City 4.