The task was daunting enough for Garden City’s softball team.
Tuesday’s showdown between Dodge City and the Buffs had a lot riding on it, after all — the home Buffaloes needed a sweep of the Red Demons for the outright league title, which doesn’t get much more dramatic in this rivalry matchup.
After winning the first game 5-3, Garden City, trying to mount a seventh-inning rally in the nightcap, left two on base as Dodge City claimed a 5-3 victory of its own. That means that the best the Buffs can do is earn a share of the title, only if Dodge City loses to Liberal next week.
The opener went mostly Garden City’s way, as Hailey Dart threw a four-hitter to put more significance on game two.
That first game handed Dodge City its first loss in conference play this season (4-1) while Garden City moved to 6-1 in the conference.
The second-game moved Dodge City to 13-3 (5-1), while Garden City fell to 11-5 (6-2). And with the Red Demons still having two games left against a conference foe, and Garden City done, Dodge City controls its own destiny for a league title.
The fateful second game started well enough for the Buffs.
Dart hit a first-pitch home run to lead off the second inning and put her team ahead 1-0 for pitcher Yazmin Vargas.
In the top of the fourth, with the scored 1-1, Vargas got a leadoff strikeout but gave up a single to Maddie Kalscheur.
Dart replaced Vargas with the next batter, inheriting a 3-1 count, and she walked.
Caroline Williams loaded the bases with a slow roller single, and a walk to leadoff hitter Elise Helfrich plated a run.
Shaylyn Turner sent two runners home with a long single, giving the Demons a 4-1 lead. Another single loaded the bases again, but Dart got a strikeout and forced a fly ball to end the inning.
A two-out Taylor Terpstra single followed by a Dart double in the fifth failed to produce a run.
Dodge City picked up insurance tally in the sixth — Grace Ruehle placed a single down the right field line, which was misplayed, allowing her to round the bases for the score.
Laura Farmer finally answered, however, pulling the Buffs to within 5-3 with a blast over the center field fence, scoring Terpstra ahead of her. Then, two walks — the latter representing the game-tying run — chased starter Raegan Lopp (7-1), bringing in game one starter Raemie Lopp.
The freshman delivered for the Demons, inducing a fielder’s choice groundout, a strikeout on three pitches and a groundout to first to end the Garden City hope of a sweep.
For coach Trina Moquett, game one was all she could have wished from her team with so much at stake.
“We played pretty well. We played defense well, we hit well, we were disciplined at the plate,” she said.
In game one, the Demons — winners of 10 straight games — were down 5-1 heading into the seventh inning, but started with two consecutive doubles to score a run.
Vargas got an unassisted double play, and the Red Demons were down to their final out. Consecutive errors and a single plated another Dodge City run, with runners at the corners.
But that was it, as Dart, with eight strikeouts, picked up her seventh win of the season.
Garden City got doubles from Vargas and Laura Farmer, with Vargas adding a triple.
Vargas scored two runs, and Dart helped her own cause with an RBI single. She went 3 for 3 at the plate.
Freshman Raemie Lopp (6-2) came into the game with a 2.84 ERA, but the Buffs jumped on her early for a 4-1 lead after three, adding another run in the fourth. Lopp struck out five and walked three.
Moquett could only hope for more of game one in game two, with the comeback coming up just short.
“It was doable,” she said. “I got a little frustrated with some of the calls that we weren’t getting. Other than that, I’m proud of how they battled. They didn’t give up.”
Farmer, one of three seniors honored in her final home game, had the dramatic hit in that second game.
“That was great for her to do that. It gave us a bit of a boost. We had our chance,” Moquett said.
For Dodge City coach Ashley Podschun, the importance of this matchup was clear.
“We’d won 10 in a row, and that was a pretty big deal for us. It’s probably the most confident we’ve ever been coming in,” she said. “I’m very proud of them and the way they buckled down.”
The way her team finished the second game, with a freshman coming in to get the late save as she did, Podschun was happy with how her team battled.
Garden City travels to Emporia this weekend for a tournament and finish the regular season Monday at Goodland.
Dodge City will travel to Emporia, as well, taking Andover Central and Blue Valley Southwest this week and finish the regular season at Liberal next Thursday.