Three consecutive at-bats in the bottom of the fifth inning of the Region VI opener between Cowley and Garden City community colleges provided all the difference.
Kendrick Catron had held Cowley hitless through 4 2/3 innings, but a pair of Cowley singles, sandwiched around a triple in the fifth inning, provided what turned into the game-winning runs as the Tigers took Game 1 of the best two-of-three-game series, 2-0, Friday afternoon in Arkansas City.
“I thought Kendrick commanded the zone with three pitches very well,” GCCC head coach Chris Finnegan said. “He was down in the zone, and he kept them off balance.”
But the NJCAA’s ninth-ranked Cowley squad (41-9) mounted the three-batter rally in the fifth, and the Busters (26-28) had no answer for Cole Larson, the freshman right-hander who tossed a complete game two-hitter, walking three and striking out six. Both hits came off the bat of Clint Allen, who singled in each of the first and third innings, before being stranded.
Finnegan was most pleased with his lineup drawing three walks from a pitcher who hadn’t walked more than two all season, and had just seven in 40 innings pitched coming into the day.
Two more Busters also reached on hit-by-pitches.
“We were a hit away,” Finnegan said. “For us to find five ways to first base against a guy that doesn’t walk anybody, that showed we had some good at-bats.”
But that hit never came. The Busters got two runners on in the second, but RJ Bourget flew out to right field. Allen reached second in the third, after his single and an error, but Corbin Truslow struck out and Ty Barclay lined out to first.
They got two more runners on in the sixth, before Ty Lightley popped out.
“He made some good pitches in situations where we could have got to him,” Finnegan said. “That’s what great pitchers do. He was very good on the inner half, had arm-side run.”
Catron and relievers Ryder Yakel and Austin Stone were nearly just as good. Catron cruised through four hitless innings, and got two outs in the fifth, before Kevin Rolon singled. Then, Cross Factor tripled to right to plate the first run, and Parker Dunn singled in Factor for the final tally.
Catron was pulled after the quick rally for Yakel, who induced a groundout to end the threat, and then Stone tossed three scoreless innings, giving up just a single, though the Tigers got a pair of runners on in the seventh, before a groundout ended that rally.
“It was just a great junior college baseball game,” Finnegan said. “It lasted an hour and 40 minutes.”
The Busters and Tigers square off again at 2 p.m. Saturday in Game 2 of the best-of-three series. If the Busters win, the two teams will meet again at 1 p.m. Sunday. If Cowley wins, the Busters’ season is over and the Tigers advance to the Region VI Tournament’s double-elimination bracket play, which begins May 11 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita.