GCCC wins two over Butler

There's still a lot of baseball to be played. But if Thursday was any indication, the Broncbusters improved rotation and bullpen could go a long way in them making a run in the Jayhawk West.

Malachi Crone allowed just one earned run on four hits in seven innings, Darrian Escobar-Winter provided the go-ahead RBI in the sixth, and Garden City Community College topped Butler 3-2 in game one on Thursday afternoon at Williams Stadium.

"If you were to just look at our numbers through the first part of this season, with the errors and the fact that we weren't hitting the ball, you'd say that's a bad team. And while these games don't mean much because it's early, our guys have bought in."

And the leader of that pack was Crone, who set the tone right from the start. After a leadoff error in the first, the sophomore set down Dylan Werries, Colby Standard and Josh Cameron to avoid any trouble. He worked around a walk in the second, and faced the minimum in the third. But Crone's most spectacular sequence didn't come on a strikeout. No, it happened in the fifth. After Bryce Zimmerer led off the inning with a single, Crone fielded Jackson Syring's sharp grounder up the middle, spun around, threw a pellet to second before Escobar-Winter fired to first, completing an 1-6-3 double play.

"People don't even know this but Malachi has been sick for like three weeks," Finnegan said. "He's lost like 30 pounds. And to be honest, going into this game, we were going to start Rhett Halstead in game one. But he got sick."

By the results, Crone was feeling much better, and boy were his pitches humming.

"I really wanted to get better at missing on 0-2 or 1-2," Crone said afterwards. "I was leaving too many balls over the plate. So that's something that I've been working on."

With Crone in full control, Garden City went on the attack. In the first, Dakota Finley singled to right; then took second on an error. Ibrahim Rodriguez followed with an infield hit, and Jake Barber cleared the bases with one swing-lining a two-run double down the right-field line to make it 2-0.

Butler answered back in the fourth with two runs, thanks in large part to two errors by Jean Barreto in right. Then, the Broncbusters squandered a chance to go back in front in the bottom half when they left the bases loaded.

"Was this game perfect? No," Finnegan said. "But the buy-in factor was definitely there."

The Broncbusters grabbed the lead for good in the sixth. Barber reached on a push bunt to the right side, Tommy Alitz moved him to second, and Colin Stone got on with another infield hit. That eventually set the table for Escobar-Winter, who with Barber standing at third, laid down a bunt single that scored the go-ahead run.

That's all Crone needed.

The sophomore worked a perfect seventh inning, getting Brandon Ryan and RJ Lara to ground out before striking out Noah Argena.

"I added an old curveball that I hadn't been throwing for a while," Crone added. "That helped them stay off of my fastball."

It was the sophomore's first start since Feb. 8 vs. Southeast. His final line: seven innings pitched, one earned run, four hits and four strikeouts. Rodriguez and Barber each collected two hits.

Losing pitcher Dillan Janak, allowed three runs on 10 hits in 5 1/3 for the Grizzlies, who watched their seven-game winning streak come to an end. And the same guy who went 10-1 in 2019, was inconsistent all day.

Don't expect the 2020 Broncbusters to break any single-season home-run marks. But that doesn't mean they won't win a ton of games, especially in an era where small ball rules. And that suits Garden City just fine.

Colin Stone blasted his third homer of the year, Connery O'Donnell struck out a season-high 11 batters, and Garden City pushed past Butler 6-3 in the second game of the doubleheader.

"Last year, I tried to do way too much," O'Donnell said afterwards. "I was trying to one-up guys. But this year, I'm just coming in and doing my job. And we have all the faith in the world in those guys in the pen."

O'Donnell, much like Crone in game one, never seem rattled. He fanned two batters in the first, another in the second; then got Colby Standard to chase some high heat to end the third. In the fourth, after surrendering a leadoff double to Josh Cameron, who eventually scored on a throwing error, the sophomore buckled down and struck out three straight batters: Austin Portner, Brandon Ryan and RJ Lara to retire the side.

"You know, we played Butler at the end of last season and they put it on us pretty good," O'Donnell said. "The guys that are back remembered that and wanted to get rid of that bad taste."

O'Donnell surrendered another run in the sixth but ended the frame as he did so many others on Thursday by Getting Portner to strike out swinging. He added two more punchouts in the seventh before handing the ball over to the bullpen.

"We got two quality starts from our guys today," Head Coach Chris Finnegan said. "When that happens, a lot of good things take place."

Raul Garcia worked a perfect seventh, and Damian Acosta surrendered a walk and an RBI double to Ryan before getting Lara to ground out to short to end the game.

"All of these games mean something now," O'Donnell said. "That's the time of year it is."

Trailing 1-0 in the fifth, the Broncbusters evened the score on Ibrahim Rodriguez's RBI groundout. The next batter, Jean Barreto struck out swinging, but catcher, Colby Standard dropped the ball. As soon as he threw Barreto out at first, Dakota Finley came charging in from third to give Garden City a 2-1 advantage.

"That was a great read by Dak," Finnegan said. "I told him if it's a breaking ball, 1-2 in the dirt, read the catcher's head. The catcher never looked and stopped Dak's feet. So once he cleared home plate, Dak took off, and there was no shot."

Once Butler tied it in the sixth on Standard's RBI groundout, Garden City left no doubt in the seventh. Finley singled and took second on a throwing error. Then, with the infield drawn in, Barreto slapped a base hit up the middle to put the Broncbusters up for good. But the finishing touches came three batters later when Stone hammered reliever, Dylan Richey's elevated fastball over the wall in right for a three-run homer and a 6-2 advantage.

"Now it's about how do we handle this," Finnegan said. "Do we stay bought in? Playing at Butler's place is a different deal. Routine outs will be homers. It's a smaller park."

Stone finished 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBI for Garden City, who won their fourth straight game. Mason Mitchell, and Finley collected two hits, and O'Donnell allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings.

Butler starter, Izack Tiger, went five innings, surrendering two runs on six hits while striking out six. He was replaced by Cade Phelps in the sixth, who gave up two runs on two hits in 1 1/3.

Garden City will face Butler on Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. in El Dorado.