There’s something to be said about season-opening games.
Whether it’s football in the fall, basketball in the winter, or baseball/softball in the spring, the first contest of any campaign always comes with unexpected outcomes.
Sometimes those are good…and sometimes they are not so good.
Take Thursday’s softball doubleheader at Ford Field/Tangeman Sports Complex for the Garden City Buffaloes.
After the Buffs had their originally-scheduled season opener at Goodland postponed Tuesday due to 60mph-plus winds, they finally got to step on the diamond to take on the Monarchs of TMP-Marian of Hays, who had opened last week with a twin bill loss to Dodge City.
Despite getting a sterling pitching performance from junior Hailey Dart, the Buffs dismantled themselves with seven errors that led to an 8-2 loss to the Monarchs in the opener.
The good news was that in the nightcap, the Buffs got another sterling pitching effort from sophomore Yazmin Vargas as they rebounded with a 7-3 come-from-behind victory to split with the Monarchs.
The doubleheader roller-coaster left Vargas smiling following her three-hitter, in which she recorded six strikeouts, walked none and hit one batter going the full six innings to pick up her first varsity win.
“Oh man, I was a little nervous there at first,” Vargas said afterward. “But once I got started, and I had my screwball working on the inside corner, I got more comfortable out there.”
Vargas, who played second base her entire freshman season in helping the Buffs to a third-place finish in the Class 6A state tournament while being named second-team all-state, has moved over to shortstop when Dart picks up the pitching duties.
“I still have work to do on my curve, but I just started on that pitch earlier this year,” Vargas said.
There were anxious moments in the second game, too, as the Monarchs took an early 3-1 lead in the third when one fielding error led to three unearned runs for the visitors. Laura Farmer had provided the Buffs with a brief 1-0 lead with a home run in the bottom of the first.
The big breakthrough for the Buffs in their win came in the sixth when Reagan Nordby doubled to right, scoring Dart to tie the game. The floodgates opened, and Reigan Crawford followed with an infield single to put runners at first and second. Vargas, who had turned an infield bunt single into a run in the third, was intentionally walked to load the bases.
That brought Farmer back to the plate and she delivered a hard ground single that just eluded the glove of TMP shortstop Emily Schulte to plate two runs. A throwing error back into the infield allowed Vargas to score, before another Monarch miscue allowed Farmer to score the final run.
Once the Buffs gained the lead, it was Vargas who shut the door in the top of the seventh, inducing three groundouts that more than made up for one more fielding error that left a runner on second when the final out was recorded.
“It’s early, and we’re trying to figure out our own identity,” head coach Trina Moquett said of her team that lost several key players from last year’s record-setting finish at state. “I think they were just pressing, and we certainly didn’t look sharp.”
Moquett said she was impressed with both Vargas and Dart with their pitching efforts. Dart’s 11-strikeout, one-walk, one-hit batter performance was wasted when the Buffs’ defense melted in each of the four innings where TMP pushed across runs. Two errors in the first led to one run, another miscue in the third plated one more, one bobble in the fifth scored another TMP run and then three costly ones enabled the Monarchs to score five times to put the game on ice.
The Buffs, meanwhile, couldn’t find enough good at-bats in the opener as Bailey Lacy held the Buffs to six hits while striking out five and walking two.
Dart also couldn’t figure out how to keep Anna Gottschalk from a stellar offensive performance as the Monarch senior went 4 for 4 in the opener with three RBIs, and then was 2 for 3 in the nightcap with another pair of RBIs.
In the winning nightcap, Farmer was the big offensive weapon with her two hits and four RBIs.
The Buffs will return to action on Tuesday when they travel to Maize South where they will play the hosts as well as Derby in a triangular format. First pitch is set for 2 p.m.