Ready or not, conference play is here for the Garden City Broncbusters baseball team.
The final preparation came Tuesday at Williams Stadium, where the Busters dispatched Otero (Colo.), 13-4.
“We did not overlook our opponent, and I think it’s really easy to overlook something when you’ve got something big coming up like conference,” GCCC head coach Chris Finnegan said, referencing Thursday’s conference opener vs. Cloud County. That twin bill will begin at 1 p.m. at Williams Stadium, and the teams will then play a doubleheader at Cloud County on Saturday.
The Busters got a two-run home run from Corbin Truslow in the midst of a five-run rally in the third, which blew the game open early. They got two more in the third, three in the fifth and two more in the sixth, including a home run from ReJean Bourget, pushing their season record to 11-6.
Otero fell to 4-8.
Finnegan went with a “bullpen game,” from his pitching staff, using seven different pitchers, and none threw more than two innings, while Aaron Peach got the win after tossing a scoreless third inning to keep the score at 1-all, before the rally in the bottom half of the frame.
And their performance, giving up four runs, seven hits and four walks across the nine innings, was encouraging after a subpar start to the season for the usually solid Garden City bullpen.
“The big thing was, we pitched very well,” Finnegan said. “We really, really stressed about it yesterday, and I thought the guys came out and showed what they were capable of showing.”
The effort came a day after a meeting to discuss the expectations for the pitching staff — and bullpen in particular — entering the conference season.
Of the Buster relievers, sophomore Nick Iossi has been stellar, giving up no earned runs — three unearned runs — in 8 2/3 innings of work, with 12 strikeouts and four walks. However, no other reliever has a sub 5.68 ERA.
The one silver lining has been the bullpen has not had much work in the non-conference, as the starters have usually gone deep into games.
“For the way we do things, it’s more of a curse than a blessing,” Finnegan said, however. “In year’s past, we’ve had our guys go a little deeper into the region tournament because they’re more fresh.”
But the work is coming for the Buster relievers.
“They’re not going to go 10 starts and 10 complete games,” Finnegan said of the Buster starters. “We’re going to have to figure it out in the pen, or we’re going to have to throw 200 pitches. That’s just what we’re going to have to do.”
Finnegan said he thought 17 non-conference games in February would help the Busters decide some of the bullpen roles. That’s not been the case, though.
“I have no idea what we’re doing right now. No clue,” he said. “Whatever is working at the time is what we’re going to go with, and if we have to make an adjustment, we’ll roll with that.”
The starting roles are penciled in for now, though.
Auston Stone (3-1, 4.29 ERA) will give the pill for the series opener Thursday, with Jacob Garza (2-0, 11.05) going Game 2. Jacob Douglas (3-1, 3.43 ERA) will go Game 3, and Ryder Yakel (0-1, 4.70) will pitch Game 4.
Cloud County (5-5) is coached by former Buster assistant Eric Gilliland, who is in his second season at the helm of the T-Birds.
Note: Last season, the Busters finished third in the KJCCC West at 18-14. Hutchinson won the west, going 26-6.
New conference schedule
The KJCCC West has moved away from the previous conference series schedule of four games at one location on Saturday and Sunday, to a split-doubleheader schedule for conference series. The first doubleheader each week will be played on Thursday at one team’s home field, and then the two teams will turn around and play Games 3 and 4 of the series at the other team’s home field on Saturday. For example, this weekend, the Busters host Cloud County Thursday, and then travel to Concordia Saturday.
It copies the format the KJCCC East has followed for years.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Finnegan said. “I voted for it. I thought we in the West needed something to change. I thought once we got into the fourth game each weekend, it was just miserable baseball.”
Finnegan noted that NCAA Division I and Division II baseball programs play one nine-inning game each day, mostly Thursday through Sunday.
“We were trying to compact 32 innings into two days,” Finnegan said. “It was a grind. On Monday, I’m just washed. It’s too much. I can’t even imagine what it’s like playing those games.”
Now, teams get a day off in between. Though, it does guarantee travel every week.
But it may be an advantage for pitchers.
“It gives us a chance where you don’t have to use as much of the bullpen, I think,” Finnegan said. “On Saturday and Sunday, a team like Garden City, where you use your guys a lot, now it gives you a day in between where you’re not grinding those guys two days in a row.”