By BRETT MARSHALL
What had been a forgettable season suddenly turned into an unforgettable moment for the Garden City High School baseball team.
Throw frustration out the window.
Stomp on all the costly mistakes — base-running, fielding errors, poor hitting.
None of that mattered in the heat of the moment of the Buffaloes' final 2013 home game at Clint Lightner Stadium.
The Buffs saved their best for last, and it proved oh so costly to the Great Bend Panthers.
After suffering another debilitating defeat in the Tuesday opener, 14-3, to the Western Athletic Conference-leading Panthers, the Buffs somehow, some way, regrouped and came back to win the nightcap in a stirring, emotional 3-2 triumph that cost the Panthers the outright WAC championship.
With Hays' sweep of Liberal, the Panthers and Indians finished tied for the top spot with 6-2 records. It was, ironically, the only WAC victory for the Buffs.
The Buffs salvaged a bit of pride and honor in the final home game and sent their eight seniors out on a high note.
And, boy, did those seniors make a difference in the finale.
First, pitcher Edgar Montoya was brilliant, limiting the Panthers to just five hits in going the distance to pick up his third win of the season as the Buffs left the field with a 4-15 record overall and 1-7 in the WAC. Montoya struck out four, walked three, one intentional, and hit two batters. He threw just 90 pitches in the complete-game triumph.
Second, leadoff batter Logan Dechant had two of the four hits off previously unbeaten Panther pitcher Tristan Hall, and scored two runs.
Third, it was second baseman Jonathan Guerrero, whose leaping stab to stop a high-bouncing groundball off the bat of Chad Touslee and a spinning throw to first base to record the final out of the stunning victory.
"I think we just went out and were more confident when we had guys where they needed to be," Dechant said. "I'm just more comfortable at short, Jonathan was at second, we had Thomas (Solorio) behind the plate, Edgar on the mound. It all just felt good. When we play like this, we can be a pretty good team."
Dechant got the Buffs started in Game 2, slashing a single to left. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Macus Zapata and scored on Mitch Hernandez' single.
The Buffs scored what would prove to be the winning runs in the third when Dechant reached second on a dropped fly ball by Panther left fielder Mitch Johnson. When Zapata attempted a steal of second, Great Bend's Ruiz fired the ball to second, which was cutoff by shortstop Bryce Beck. Beck then fired a strike to home as Dechant took off from third and the Buffs' senior dove head first under the tag, making it 2-0. Zapata then stole third and raced home with the winning run on a throwing error by Ruiz.
"We've had so many of those go the other way this season," GCHS coach Bill Wilson said. "It was nice to finally see something like that go our way. We didn't exactly hit the ball hard, but we found a way to scrape out the win."
Wilson was emotional in talking about what the win meant for his seniors, who have struggled throughout their four-year careers.
"I told them before the game, that this is all about the seniors and pitchers," Wilson said of his speech between the forgettable five-inning thrashing in the opener. "Edgar's pitched his guts out this year and he deserves to go out in style, and we were able to make that happen. I've made so many rah-rah speeches that I just really didn't know what to say. Not much has worked, that's for sure. This time, though, the kids played great. We're pretty good when we don't beat ourselves."
Montoya was all smiles afterward.
"This can be a great game to build on for the future," Montoya said. "It just feels great. Great Bend's a tough team, and we lost a close game to them last year. To be able to beat them and keep them from winning WAC by themselves, it's just the next best thing."
Montoya had been on the mound Friday when the Buffs blasted Emporia 9-2 at the Spartan Classic so he closed out his home career with a second straight win. What worked, Montoya said, was mixing up his pitches and keeping the usually hard-hitting Panther batters off balance.
"Mainly, it was my fastball, and I was spotting it really good on the outside," Montoya said. "I was able to get the curve on the outside corner, too. Things just felt good out there."
And the nerve-wracking seventh inning when the Buffs were leading 3-2 (Great Bend had scored single runs in the third and sixth) had its anxious moments as well.
After walking leadoff batter Beck, Montoya was able to strikeout Brady Buehler and get Dakota Conaway on an infield pop fly to Guerrero. That set the stage for Guerrero's sterling defensive gem to ice the game.
"That play by Jonathan was a game-winner," Wilson said. "That's a great play, and he's come and worked his tail off every day and it's just great to see him come through like that."
Not much went right in the first game, as Great Bend scored six runs in the first, added single runs in the second and third before the Buffs scored twice in the third. But six more runs by the Panthers in the fourth was all they needed to put the game away on the 10-run mercy rule in the fifth inning.
The Buffs will play their final regular season game on Friday with a single contest at 4 p.m. in Dodge City against Wichita Southeast. They will await Class 6A regional pairings, which will be determined on Saturday. The playoffs will start either on Monday or Tuesday, and the likelihood is that the Buffs will be on the road.
Great Bend 611 60 -- 14 11 3
Garden City 002 01 -- 3 3 5
WP--Beck and Ruiz; LP--Dechant, Saldivar (4), Zapata (5), Gutierrez (5) and Acker. LOB--Great Bend 9, Garden City 4. 2B--Great Bend (Ruiz), Garden City (Saldivar).
Great Bend 001 001 0 -- 2 4 2
Garden City 102 000 x -- 3 5 2
WP--Montoya and Solorio; LP--Hall and Ruiz. LOB--Great Bend 8, Garden City 4. 2B--Great Bend (Hall).