The stakes are a bit different this time around. Both Hutchinson and Garden City Community College’s baseball teams came into Thursday’s doubleheader at Williams Stadium performing below recent expectations.
A year ago, Hutchinson came into a series at Garden City with a chance to clinch the West Division title, and the Broncbusters entered with a shot at moving into the top two of the division standings. This year, the Blue Dragons are mired in a mediocre season, entering the Thursday-Saturday series in fifth place in the West, while the Busters are even worse, tied for second-to-last.
But just like a year ago, it was Hutchinson that took the step forward, with the visiting Dragons taking both ends of Thursday’s twin bill, 5-0 and 9-8.
“It’s been a bad year,” GCCC head coach Chris Finnegan said. “It’s what’s been going on all year. We give ourselves opportunities to get ourselves back in games, and when we get the lead, we give it right back.”
That was the case in the nightcap, when the Busters blew a four-run lead in the final three innings, going from up 8-4 to losing the one-run heartbreaker.
The losses, in concert with Seward County’s split with Barton Thursday, drops the Busters into sole possession of eighth place in the nine-team West at 19-20 overall and 5-13 in the division.
“At what point does it stop,” Finnegan said of the Busters’ struggles. “Right now, we’re just not doing it.”
Hutchinson improves to 20-15 and 12-10, a game behind Cloud County.
The two teams will meet again in Hutchinson to finish the series at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Hutchinson 5, Garden City 0
Mike Brown was dominant for the Dragons in the opener, needing just 78 pitches to get through the seven-inning, complete game performance. He allowed just two hits and walked none while striking out five.
“Brown did a really good job,” Finnegan said. “He kept us off balance. He threw a changeup for a strike, and we didn’t make an adjustment to it.”
Brown’s counterpart, Austin Stone, did his best to limit Hutchinson’s offense, but Hutch left fielder Bobby Mortensen doubled in a run in the first, and then Zion Bowln led off the third with a home run. Then, Logan Satori and Dylan Nedved hit back-to-back doubles to make it 3-0.
Wyatt Divis led off the fifth with a home run, as well, and then Satori hit a sacrifice fly to score Zach Bailey in the sixth to make it 5-0.
“I thought Austin Stone did a great job,” GCCC head coach Chris Finnegan said. “You minimize that offense to five runs … he got out of jams with some good pitches, but we can’t get him any run support — at all.”
That was thanks to Brown, who improved to 3-1.
“I think that was huge,” Hutchinson head coach Ryan Schmidt said. “What a lift for us. We’ve been looking for that kind of start, and he’s been the hottest guy on the mound for us. He allowed our offense to work. His innings were so quick, so it gave our offense a chance to get back at it.”
Hutchinson 9, Garden City 8
The big blow for the Busters, the one that continued a year-long struggle in close games — ninth loss by two or fewer runs — was the nightcap, during which the Busters took an 8-4 lead before allowing a 5-0 Hutch advantage in the final three innings.
Scott Wolverton led off the seventh with a triple, and he was plated by Satori’s sacrifice fly. Then, on an 0-2 pitch, Nedved homered to left. The Dragons added another run in the eighth on Brock Schaffer’s home run, setting up the dramatic ninth.
At the top of the lineup, Satori singled, and then Nedved bunted and beat the throw. Divis — who hit a two-run home run in the first inning — tied it in the ninth with a single. Two batters latter, Zach Baxley flew out to right, but deep enough to bring in what turned out to be the game-winning run.
“We just put together so many good at bats,” Schmidt said. “It was just at bat after at bat where it was really good at bats — even the sacrifice fly (by Baxley). I think that ball might have hit the ground before he hit it. That’s the knind of win we need to get us going on the right track.”
And it’s exactly the type of loss the Busters have been suffering this season.
“How many one-run games are you going to lose?” Finnegan asked. “You’ve got to give them credit. We go up 8-4, and they chip away.”
Divis — who delivered a go-ahead home run in the first and the game-tying single in the ninth — also contributed on the mound, earning the win in relief. He tossed scoreless seventh and eighth innings, allowing just a hit and a walk, while striking out three.
Nedved picked up the save for a scoreless ninth.
Scott Waterman took the loss for the Busters, allowing both runs in the ninth while recording no outs.