Busters baseball sweeps Johnson County in first round of playoffs
By ADAM HOLT
You're not going to see that too often.
In both games of the Region VI opening round playoff series between Johnson County and Garden City, a Cavalier pitcher balked in the tying run. And both times, it led to a five-run inning for the Broncbusters.
Two mistakes by Johnson County pitchers ended up leading to two wins for Garden City, as it swept the best-of-three series Saturday, 8-4 and 5-2, to advance to the Region VI Super-Regional next weekend in Wichita.
Balks are uncommon enough as it is. To see two of them, with the bases loaded and two outs in 1-0 ballgames, in consecutive games?
"Very, very different, very weird, very uncommon," GCCC head coach Chris Finnegan said.
And in both cases, the balks were what it took to kickstart the Busters offense. In the fifth inning of Game 1, the balk was followed by a walk to keep the bases loaded, then a triple by Mason Fischer. In the sixth inning of Game 2, it was Fischer who walked to load the bases, and Tyler Alitz who delivered a bases-clearing double to put GCCC up.
"It's pretty crazy, especially the second time around, we weren't expecting it," designated hitter Rocky Desantis said. "We saw that, and that just gave us, the dugout got up a little bit, gave us the momentum. We just took advantage of it, started moving runners."
Those five-run innings would be the deciding frames in both games, but Garden City played all-around strong games in both contests.
Both Busters starters were excellent, with Bradley Spires pitching 6 1/3 innings in Game 1, allowing four runs on six hits and three walks with five strikeouts. Game 2 saw Jake Eikleberry going seven innings, allowing two runs on seven hits with six strikeouts. The bullpen was effective as well, with Josh Thomas, Garrett Bryant and Colton Kibler working, Kibler getting his eighth save in Game 2.
"Obviously got two quality starts from them," Finnegan said of the starters. "Got deep in the game with both of them, and could go to our three relievers, Thomas, Bryant and Kibler. They were in command all day. They pitched themselves out of a jam, the defense played really well behind them. You've got to give them props, they did what they're supposed to do."
In both games, Johnson County's pitchers had shutouts up until the balks.
In Game 1, Cavaliers ace Matt Blackham faced the minimum amount of batters in the first four innings, before Desantis broke up his no-hit bid to lead off the fifth. A sacrifice bunt and strikeout followed for two outs before a walk and hit batter loaded the bases for Zach Barton. Then came the balk, and afterward, the Busters were rolling.
"The balk in the first game kind of got him rattled, I thought, a little bit," Finnegan said. "We we were very fortunate. Honestly, if that doesn't happen, we don't score against him. We don't. He is that good."
The Busters got three more in the sixth off reliever Gage Jacobs, then survived a three-run seventh that chased Spires from the game.
In Game 2, Johnson County went up on an RBI single by Ross Johnson in the fourth. A walk and single to start the sixth by Garden City chased starter Connor Miller from the game, but Derek Beier hit Jaxon Mohr to load the bases before getting a pair of strikeouts. He balked during Fischer's at bat, walked him, then gave up a double to Alitz on a liner up the middle that scored three.
"It was huge," Desantis said. "That definitely decided the game, both games. Once we see something like that happen, something go our way, we have to pounce on it, and we do that pretty well."
And for all their early season struggles at home, the Busters finished the season with a six-game home wining streak.
"It's huge. Finally, I think we were comfortable at home," Finnegan said. "And sometimes it takes a while, especially with a younger group. But they found a way to pull it out, and you've got to give them credit. "
Now Garden City (28-25) advances to the next round in Wichita, with the Super-Regional running Friday through May 14. The Busters play the winner of the Hutchinson-Coffeyville series, which goes Sunday-Monday.