It was an all too familiar scene, which first-year Garden City High School baseball coach Justin Reich has witnessed more than he would like and more than one might stomach.
A walk-off single into centerfield, over a drawn in infield and outfield with the bases loaded, provided the Buffaloes with their latest heartbreaking loss, this one a 4-3 nail-biter to Topeka-Washburn Rural in the Class 6A regional semifinals Thursday at Tointon Family Stadium in Manhattan.
The season-ending at-bat for the Buffs came on Washburn Rural’s Ryan Cunningham’s deep fly with a pulled in Buffs infield and outfield with no outs. Spencer Taylor and Daegan Brady had back-to-back singles to open the Blues’ seventh, before Payton Smith was intentionally walked to load the bases. That left the game-winner up to Cunningham, whose high fly ball to deep center scored Taylor with the winning run.
The loss ended the Buffs’ season at 5-16, and brought to a close a frustrating campaign in which the Buffs dropped five games by two runs or less while posting two one-run victories.
“Another tough one for sure,” said Reich of the sixth loss by the Buffs of two runs or less this season. “Defensively, we played well, didn’t kick it around.”
The game was a see-saw, roller-coaster affair for the Buffs, going up 1-0 in the second when David Sandoval’s one-out groundout scored Auston Waetzig.
The Junior Blues tied the game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third and then went ahead 2-1 on a Brady single.
Back came the Buffs with a single tally in the fourth, when David Arteaga stole both third base and home to knot the score at 2. The score remained tied until the Buffs got their final run in the fifth on an infield single RBI by Waetzig that scored Isaiah Ramos. The rally might have been bigger with the bases loaded, but Lance Allred grounded out to end the inning.
Washburn Rural answered back with a tying run in the bottom of the sixth with a one-out RBI single by Cunningham.
For Reich, the game was reminiscent of many others during the struggling campaign.
“Cooper pitched well and kept us in the game,” Reich said of Thayer, who went the distance for the Buffs. “We had worked on putting in some plays for certain situations the last week, and when we had a chance to use them, we blew them. The miscues were pretty big.”
Reich praised his seniors for the leadership provided to the younger players on the roster.
“It was great all season long,” Reich said of his seniors. “They knew what we wanted to do, and the right path to take. They never lost hope even when we weren’t winning games. They stayed the course and I thought the team was pretty close-knit.”
The Buffs managed just six hits in the game, with Arteaga getting two of those. Matt Nedved picked up the win for the Blues, pitching the final 2 2/3 innings, giving up just two hits and no runs. Thayer, who threw just 77 efficient pitches, walked three and didn’t record a strikeout.