Injured Bryant returns, Busters win twin bill from Conqs.
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
By J. LEVI BURNFIN
It wasn't exactly the mound — where he would have loved to be — but Garrett Bryant returned to his Garden City Community College baseball team and teammates on Friday for the first time after suffering a devastating off-the-field injury earlier this year.
Bryant suffered an accident in late January, slipping on a sheet of ice, falling down a flight of stairs, and sustaining a life-threatening head injury. Bryant was flown shortly after to St. Anthony Hospital in Denver to undergo an emergency surgery for a fractured skull, amongst several other injuries.
After months of recovery, Bryant was released from the hospital two weeks ago to his home in Fort Collins, Colo., and returned to the Busters' dugout on Friday to cheer his squad to a doubleheader sweep of the Dodge City Conquistadors, 3-1 and 7-6, at Williams Stadium.
"The hardest part about this whole thing is being away from all my buddies, and the game the most," Bryant said after the Busters finished off the second win. "To be here (again), I never want to leave. My mom's going to have to put me in the car and drag me out."
Bryant, wearing his No. 25 jersey and sweats, watched as his team put more distance between the Busters and the rival Conqs in the Jayhawk Conference standings.
The Busters entered the day in third place in the KJCCC West, just one spot and two games ahead of the Conqs, at 17-11. By the end of it, they were in second place, four spots and four games ahead of Dodge City.
It is "Really big," designated hitter Rocky Desantis, who hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning of the nightcap to pull the Busters to within 4-3, said. "This is the last (conference) series for us, so coming out and getting those first two games really helps us in the standings."
In the opener, starting pitcher JJ Benes was solid in a complete game effort, striking out six, allowing only two walks, three hits and an earned run in the seven-inning win.
The Conqs' only run came on Haden Houska's one-out double in the third to score Jerry Lacayo, who led off the inning with a walk and then stole second.
But the Busters pulled even in the fourth after Nolan Barrientos doubled and scored on Francisco Alvarez' single one batter later. Then, the Busters took a 3-1 lead in the fifth on Barrientos' two-run double, scoring Cale Dineen and Tyler Tucker.
Benes allowed just one baserunner in the final three innings and the Busters held on.
Benes improved his record to 6-3, while Conqs' starter Sam Brunner took the complete game loss and dropped to 3-4.
"JJ's (outing) was great," head coach Chris Finnegan said. "He commanded the zone with three pitches for strikes. He was downhill, worked quick. He got us out of a couple jams."
Barrientos finished 2 for 2 with a pair of RBIs.
In the nightcap, the Conqs again took the early lead, this time off starter Jake Eikleberry, scoring a pair in the second off three singles, a walk and an error. The Busters responded with one in the third when Dineen tripled to lead off and scored on Tucker's sacrifice fly.
The Conqs put two more runs on the board in the fourth to go ahead 4-1 before Desantis hit a first-pitch opposite field two-run home run in the fifth to pull the Busters to within 4-3.
After Conqs' starter Andrew Ridell walked Kaleb Zimmer in front of Desantis on four straight, the big DH contemplated taking the first pitch, "but when you see a fastball, you've got to take a swing," the sophomore southpaw said.
Desantis' shot was the first sign of cracks in Ridell's outing as the Busters chipped away.
After the Conqs scored one more in the top of the sixth, the Busters exploded for three in the bottom half, with Tucker's two-run drive just inside the right field foul pole putting the finishing touches on the Busters' comeback, giving them a 6-5 lead.
In the seventh, Tyler Alitz hit a solo shot to left center for an insurance run, which the Busters would need as Jacob Bellamy had a ninth-inning leadoff double off reliver Josh Thomas, scoring immediately on a sacrifice fly.
However, closer Marcus McKinney came in to shut the door for the two-out save and the one-run win.
"When you face really good arms like that," Finnegan said of the Conqs' Brunner and Riddell, "you're not going to rack up 10, 15 hits, it's just not going to happen. You're going to get five to eight and you've got to maximize those."
The Busters only had six in the first game, and were out-hit 11-9 in the nightcap, but were able to win both.
Cale Dineen had three of those hits in the second game, going 3 for 4 with a triple, an RBI and two runs.
It was exactly what Bryant wanted to see, and remembered, from his team.
"I liked what I saw," he said. "I thought our pitching did good. I thought our hitting did good. I mean, it's just the Buster baseball I'm used to watching. Everyone contributed."
The Busters also got a little contribution from Butler on Friday, who entered the day percentage points ahead of Garden City for second place at 15-9.
However, the Grizzlies (29-18, 16-10) split a twin bill with Pratt Friday, winning 2-1 and falling 7-1, to leave the Busters solely in second place at 30-18 overall and 19-11, with only today's doubleheader against Dodge City left for the Busters in conference play.
Today's twin bill begins at 1 p.m., when Bryant will take the mound again to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Dodge City 001 000 0 — 1 3 0
Garden City 000 120 x — 3 6 0
Brunner and Lacayo. Benes and Alvarez. W--Benes (6-3). L--Brunner (3-4). 2B--Dodge City, Houska (16); Garden City, Barrientos (7).
Dodge City 020 201 001 — 6 11 2
Garden City 001 023 10x — 7 9 3
Riddell, Crabb(6), Fox(8) and Lacayo. Eikleberry, Clapper(6), Aspegren(6), Thomas(8), McKinney(9) and Alvarez. W--Aspegren (1-0). L--Riddell (3-3). SV--McKinney (2). 2B--Dodge City, Houska (17), Koepp (12), Bellamy 2 (5), Jones (13); Garden City, Alitz (13). 3B--Garden City, Dineen (3). HR--Garden City, Desantis (5), Tucker (4), Alitz (6).