LAWRENCE — Garden City baseball got off on the right foot in its postseason opener Thursday.
Problem is, the first step in the right direction also turned out to be the Buffaloes' last.
Garden City plated a pair of runs in the top of the first inning to take an early lead on Washburn Rural but surrendered 12 unanswered the rest of the way en route to a 12-2 defeat in five innings in the Class 6A regional semifinal at Lawrence High School. The Juniors Blues scored in every inning, including five in the fifth to secure the necessary 10-run margin in a walkoff.
The Buffaloes finished the season with an 11-10 record.
“Offensively I thought we kept up pretty well. I mean, we hit the ball around. We just weren’t able to produce runs," Garden City coach Justin Reich said. "We’ve had a problem all year beating ourselves with the little things — getting run off the base at third; two-out pop fly (in foul territory) that we drop that gives up two runs. I mean, just little things like that you can’t do, especially in a regional game.”
The 11th-seeded Buffaloes came out of the gates swinging.
Starting pitcher Cooper Thayer, a senior, led off the game with a double to the left field warning track, and Garden City had a first-and-third scenario after catcher Koby Acker reached when no defender covered first base on Acker’s bunt to the pitcher. After a strikeout, first baseman Auston Waetzig snuck an RBI single past the shortstop for the 1-0 advantage, and right fielder Austin Urrutia followed with an RBI groundout for the 2-0 lead.
That’d be as good as it got for the visiting squad, held scoreless the rest of the way by Rural sophomore starter Alexander Blum.
“We weren’t aggressive enough at the plate moving on after that first inning,” Reich said. “I mean, we had tons of success there in the first, but I wanted to see us swinging at more first-pitch fastballs — he was giving us a lot of first-pitch fastballs, and we were letting ’em go and having trouble with the changeup and offspeed stuff.”
The Junior Blues, meanwhile, plated a run in the first, three in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth and five in the decisive fifth on a collective eight hits. Rural first baseman Payton Smith, a senior, lined a solo home run to left in the fourth to pick up the game’s only other extra-base hit, and the Junior Blues capitalized on a pair of errors, four walks and a hit-by-pitch in the final frame.
With the bases loaded, two out and the Junior Blues up nine, right fielder Logan Redeker reached on an error on a line drive dropped by the shortstop to plate the 12th and final run and secure the walk-off victory.
“They’re a good, solid team,” Reich said of the Junior Blues. “Again, this time of year, if you’re not playing clean baseball, then you’re going to have problems. They played a clean game, they hit the ball well when they needed to and they did a good job.”
A second-year head coach at Garden City, Reich credited his seniors for “championing the cause for what we’re about” over the last two seasons. Eyeing the offseason, Reich said his players need to understand conditioning for the sport is a “year-round process.”
“We need to be in the weight room. We need to be doing everything we can to make sure we get better in the offseason and in the summer moving into the season and not just make it a three-month season like it is so often, or has it has been for us.”