By The Telegram Sports Staff
Good pitching beats good hitting every time.
So goes the saying in baseball philosophy. It's one reason pitchers are paid so well. Given his numbers and record, Lakin's Ryan Swank is worth his weight in gold.
The junior hurler compiled a 9-1 record in the Broncs' 19-2 season. In just 50 innings of work, he struck out 71 batters and walked only 16. His dominance on the mound was enough to earn the Telegram's diamond player of the season.
He was also named to the Class 3A all-state second team as a pitcher.
The only loss in his record came in the regional final where the Broncs fell 4-1 to Thomas More Prep of Hays.
"It was not quite the success we had planned on," he said. "It was the same story as last year (when Lakin lost to TMP)."
Everyone's statistics could have been higher on the team, he said, but Lakin would often play shorter games due to the run rules. Instead of seven full innings, they often played three to five innings.
"The teams that we play during the season don't amount to what we face later on," he said.
The shorter games save on pitchers, he said, but he would like to face the tougher competition to get ready for playoffs.
The junior looks forward to playing at the next level. When he's not on the mound, he also plays third base, but pitching is his first love.
"There's more opportunity at the college level to pitch," he explained.
Swank said his strength on the mound comes from his movement and location.
"I'm not much of a speed pitcher," he said. "I'm more of knowing where to throw it and when to throw it."
Swank said getting run support also helped his pitching this season.
Swank also said he feels lucky to play for a program like Lakin, which has had success throughout the years.
"We have a good program. Coach (Steve Davidson) has been coaching us for a long time. We all get along well. We're good as a team," he said.
Mikayla Aguiniga, Garden City, Softball
When the GCHS season started, Mikayla Aguiniga was being counted on to be the anchor of the Lady Buffs infield at the all-important shortstop position. It's kind of like the quarterback or point guard positions in football and basketball.
But a leg injury early on kept her out of much of the season, causing her to miss 10 games. Despite that, however, Aguiniga was a force to be reckoned with when she was in the lineup. In the 12 games she played, she had 19 hits in 42 at-bats for a team-high .452 average. She had a pair of doubles and a triple while driving in eight runs.
Her leg injury also hampered her mobility, yet she toughed it out and still managed to register 18 putouts, 24 assists while committing six errors (.875 percentage).
"The games I played I did all I could," Aguiniga said. "It was hard to come back from the injuries. I wanted to remember my senior season, so it wasn't exactly like I wanted. It was very frustrating — I just wanted to go out and play."
Aguiniga's career, however, has a future and it will be playing locally at Garden City Community College where she hopes to compete for an infield position.
Kim Bogner, Garden City, Softball
By most standards, the .377 batting average, 26 hits in 22 games and a slugging percentage of .536 would be representative of a highly successful season in softball.
But Bogner wasn't your typical softball player, and despite those lofty numbers, she fell well short of her season goals.
"I had hoped to do better than that," said Bogner, whose .537 batting average her junior season was just one percentage point short of Freedom Vanmeter's single season mark of .538.
Despite that, she found herself on The Telegram's All-Area Baseball/Softball team for the third consecutive season. She tied for second on the Lady Buffs' team with 26 hits, led the team in triples with three and anchored the GCHS outfield in center field after moving from left. In the field, she had 25 putouts, two assists and just one error for a .964 fielding percentage.
She will go down as the greatest hitter in GCHS school history with a .442 career batting average (.388 was the previous high), a .607 slugging percentage (.540 was previous best), and leaves as the No. 1 leader in runs scored (83), hits (115), doubles (23), triples (10) and total bases (157).
"I'm very pleased with the career stats," Bogner said. "I can look back and feel as though I'm one of the best players, especially hitting-wise, to have played for coach (John) Ford. The girls that were on that list were girls I looked up to when I was younger and just learning. It's an honor to be part of that group and it's an awesome feeling."
Despite numerous offers to continue her playing career at the collegiate level, Bogner will attend Kansas State University where she plans to major in engineering.
"I'm ready to move on," Bogner said. "Softball has been a great part of my life, but it's not my passion anymore."
Leslie Ford, Garden City, Softball
It would have been difficult to comprehend how much improvement Ford could have made from her freshman season of 2010 when she went 10-3 and posted an amazing 1.60 earned-run-average.
But the GCHS sophomore came back and averted the sophomore slump with a 7-4 record as the Lady Buffs played a considerably tougher schedule in 2011. Ford had a 2.65 ERA while throwing nine complete games in 10 starts and 12 appearances. She registered two shutouts in 60.2 innings, giving up just 12 walks while striking out 58.
"I thought we did good, but it didn't go the way we wanted it to," Ford said of the team's 12-10 record. "We battled through it. I think playing Maize (2010 state champs) and Pampa, Texas, was definitely a challenge."
Ford said she had worked on a new pitch in the offseason and in 2011 it became one of her most effective weapons — the screwball.
"I couldn't throw it my freshman year but this year, it was the one pitch I could throw," Ford said. "I'm just going to continue to work hard and get better for next season."
Vanessa Garcia, Garden City, Softball
In her senior season and second as the starting first baseman for the Lady Buffs, Garcia blossomed into one of the best hitters on the team. She improved her average from .356 as a junior to .406, second best on the team. She scored 23 runs, had a team-high 28 hits which included four doubles, two triples and 15 runs-batted-in.
"Our season didn't turn out the way we wanted it to be, but hitting-wise, I improved a lot," Garcia said. "I don't pay attention a lot, but I just tried to go up and hit the ball hard."
Playing first base put Garcia right in the middle of the defensive action for the Lady Buffs and the challenge was there as she finished with an .893 fielding percentage.
Garcia has signed to play for Garden City Community College next year and is looking forward to the next challenge.
"It's a different level and a very great challenge," Garcia said. "But I'm excited to take that next step."
Travis Leverett, Sublette, Baseball
Senior pitcher Travis Leverett was a big part of why Sublette's Larks made a repeat trip to the Class 2-1A state tournament in Emporia.
"I thought I had a pretty good season hitting the ball and pitching," Leverett said. "I felt I did a whole lot better this year than I had in the past and it was a great way to end my high school baseball career."
Things did not go as well as Sublette had hoped, however. The team lost in the first round to Salina-Sacred Heart, ending Leverett's high school career but not his playing career.
Next season, Leverett will take his skills to Dodge City Community College to play for the Conquistadors. And he credits being able to play on to the exposure he got over the course of his high school career thanks to the team making it to state multiple times.
"It helps to having team recognition," Leverett said. "Going to state a couple times shows college coaches that you're good enough to play at the college level, so they came and took a look at me."
Joe Lower, Sublette, Baseball
Joe Lower also made up part of the Sublette team's pitching staff. He was not a regular starter on the mound; instead most of his time was spent as the team's catcher.
But what makes Lower's season even more fascinating was the fact that this season marked the very first time he found himself behind the plate.
"(This season) was probably the best of my career," Lower said. "I hit the ball really well. This year, I was trying to hit more for power and ended up hitting four home runs. I hadn't hit any, any other years, and my batting average went up, too."
It was no doubt a big task to ask Lower to change positions in his senior season but he said he agreed to doing it because he wanted to help the team in any way possible.
Lower also went 5-0 in the regular season as a pitcher and helped guide a pitching staff that led Sublette to a return trip to the Class 2-1A state tournament.
"That was the best of my career (pitching)," he said. "I didn't think I was that great of a pitcher, but I got it done."
Bryant Miller, Lakin, Baseball
The No. 4 hitter in a lineup is there for a reason — to drive in runs.
Known as the cleanup batter, that player is usually a skilled hitter who can make contact, hit for power and rack up impressive numbers.
That model describes Bryant Miller, outfielder and No. 4 hitter for the Lakin Broncs whose numbers this season were commensurate to the hype.
Opposing pitchers knew who Miller was and what his potential was every time he came to the plate. The junior right-hander hit a cool .581 with five triples, two homers and 43 RBI in the team's 21 games.
His numbers got him named to the Telegram's all-area first team. He was also named Class 3A all-state first team as an outfielder.
Last season, batting sixth in the lineup, he drove in just over 20 runs. This year, he batted cleanup and the offensive production rose.
Guys ahead of him were doing their job by getting on base, he noted, and that meant he had to do his job, which was to drive them in.
That formula worked as Lakin outscored its opponents 277-77 this past season.
Miller said he found that staying relaxed instead of "taking it too seriously" helps him prepare for games because it helps him cut down on mistakes. He just plays his game and make it fun.
A three-sport athlete, Miller's first love is basketball, which he hopes to play in college. It's a testament to his athleticism that he can play baseball as well as he does. Off-season conditioning for his means working on basketball.
"I play baseball so I can help these guys (my teammates) make it to state," he said.
Chandon Moreno, Lakin, Baseball
The timing in this year's baseball season was everything for Chandon Moreno.
The junior from Lakin High School had seen his football season cut short by an ACL injury. But his rehabilitation time from surgery would allow for his release to play baseball in time for opening day.
So he took advantage of that, worked hard on getting his knee and his body back into shape, and it all fell into place.
Moreno, primarily a shortstop for the Broncs, racked up some good offensive numbers (.527 average, nine doubles, two home runs, 11 stolen bases), good enough to earn a first-team all-area honor.
"After it hit me that I needed to work hard, I decided to start rehabbing every day," Moreno said. "I knew that our team was going to be a threat this year and I wanted to do whatever I could to help my team out."
Moreno likes to play shortstop right now because he thinks it will help him for his future, which is to play in college.
"Playing shortstop helps colleges see that I can play the middle infield," he explained. "When I go to college I'll be playing second base. The throw's a lot easier. I'm not the perfect size for a shortstop (he's 5-6) but for second base that's what they're asking for."
Jamie St. Clair, Garden City, Softball
Little did St. Clair know just how complicated her first year of high school softball would become. She earned the starting nod at season's start in left field but then was thrust into playing shortstop for nearly half the season for the injured Aguiniga.
"It was pretty crazy," St. Clair said. "I didn't expect Kayla to get hurt or to play infield my freshman year."
Normally a third baseman if playing the infield, moving to shortstop was a challenge for St. Clair. But it was her hitting that established St. Clair as one of the mainstays of the Lady Buffs' offense. She hit .357 with 25 hits and 13 RBIs. She had a team-high seven doubles and had one home run.
"I just went in there with the mindset of hitting the ball and getting on base," St. Clair said. "We'll see what next year brings."
Ron Baker, Brett O'Neil, Scott City, Baseball
The main 1-2 punch for the Scott City Beavers, Baker, a senior, and O'Neil, a sophomore, were the top hitters for coach Neil Baker's team that finished 13-9 and lost to TMP-Marian, 8-4, in the Class 3A regional semifinals.
O'Neil was the team's leading hitter with a .500 batting average. He had a team-high 33 hits, with eight doubles, two triples and 13 RBI's. In the field, he committed just two erros to finish with a .935 percentage. As a pitcher, O'Neil went 2-1 in 31.1 innings, recording 41 strikeouts.
Baker, who had earned Player of the Year honors in both football and basketball and is headed to Wichita State University to play basketball.
He posted a .417 batting average, had three home runs, eight doubles and a team-high 28 RBIs. His slugging percentage of .700 was a team-high and he had a .566 on-base percentage.
In 34 innings, he had 56 strikeouts with 24 walks, posted a 3.50 ERA and went 5-3 on the season.