GCHS softball survives late TMP scare to win doubleheader

GCHS Athletics
Members of the Garden City High School softball team begin the celebration as teammate Rilee McGraw (13) reaches home plate after hitting a two-run home run in the fourth inning of the second game Tuesday against Thomas More Prep at Tangeman Sports Complex.

Second game called in five due to darkness

For many of the games of the 2021 season, the Garden City High School Buffaloes softball team has found itself in a nearly do-or-die situation in their closing at-bats.

They’ve seen early leads disappear, only to fall behind, and then somehow when it feels like all might be lost, they find a way to rally and produce a victory. It’s happened multiple times in this season in which they now are owners of a 16-3 won-loss record.

And on Tuesday at John Ford Field at Tangeman Sports Complex, the Buffs once again created their own magical solution to deficits and winning in their last at-bat.

With darkness closing in on the second game of a doubleheader against Thomas More Prep-Marian of Hays, the Buffs trailed 16-15 as they came to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning. With the likelihood of the game not being able to reach its intended conclusion of seven innings, it was the last gasp for the Buffs.

They produced four runs to go up 19-16 and with two outs, the umpiring crew determined it was not safe enough with little light remaining for the game to continue. It was called then, allowing the Buffs to sweep the hard-earned twin bill from the Monarchs after they had survived another cliff-hanger in the opening game, 12-11.

Not in her more than a decade of coaching at the college and high school levels had GCHS Coach Trina Moquett witnessed such a roller-coaster of events in two games, and she’s already seen plenty of those this season.

“Maybe I need to go get a stress test or something,” Moquett joked afterward. “Make sure my ‘ol ticker is still working properly. “I’ve never had a year like this. We just keep finding ways to win and this group is certainly been able to find ways to get the job done. These games were definitely interesting.”

With the first game starting at 4 p.m., there would be about 4 hours, 45 minutes of daylight left on a good sunny weather forecast. Instead, it was overcast with low cloud cover, and temperatures hovering in the upper 40s. Time would be of the essence.

Game 1 took just a little more than two hours thanks in part to 23 combined runs, 29 combined hits and nine combined errors between the two teams.

The Buffs jumped out early with a four-run first inning before the Monarchs scored twice in their third frame. Another GCHS run made it 5-2. In the fourth, Garden scored three more times to seemingly take command at 8-2 only to have TMP score 3 runs in each of the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, countered by 4 runs by the Buffs in the fifth.

Garden had built a 12-8 lead going to TMP’s final at-bat in the seventh, but the Monarchs, who had a big hitting day in both games, scored three runs but couldn’t produce enough as sophomore pitcher Brie Manwarren got the final out on a fly to left to survive the TMP rally, 12-11.

Senior Rilee McGraw, perhaps inspired by Senior Night, had the big offensive explosion, going 4-for-5 with five RBIs, including two home runs and a double. Manwarren won her 13th game of the year against just two losses by striking out eight and walking three while also going 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs. She wasn’t at her sharpest as she gave up three home runs, two to Madison Augustine and one to Sophia Mickelson-Coulter.

“I didn’t know what to expect from them,” Moquett said of TMP. “I knew they had some hitters, but I couldn’t figure out how to pitch them, and they hit the ball really well both games. It was a tough and long day but we found a way again to win the games. This group continually amazes me in many ways, but their chemistry is so good and their support of each other continues to impress me.”

As if the dramatics of Game 1 weren’t enough, Game 2 also produced its share of excitement, nerves and wonder at what transpired.

This time it was 35 runs combined, 30 hits (19 by Garden) and an astonishing 15 errors. The Buffs made an unsightly 12 errors in the game (yes, a dozen), but continued to find ways on offense to keep themselves in the game. Throwing and fielding miscues, mental mistakes allowed TMP to score 16 runs yet only three of them were earned off pitchers Gisselle Gutierrez who threw the first four innings and performed admirably before yielding to Manwarren in the fifth.

“Gisselle pitched great and was good enough to get a win in most games,” Moquett said. “I thought she did a great job of controlling her pitches (eight hits, two strikeouts, 1 walk). I just switched up with Brie to give them a different look in that last at-bat.”

It was 5-4 Buffs after one inning. Then it was 9-4 Garden after two and 10-6 after three frames. TMP tied the game at 10 with 4 runs in the fourth only to have the Buffs answer with 5 runs in their half of the fourth to make it 15-10. The Monarchs, astonishingly, plated 6 runs in the top of the fifth, which would prove to be their final time at-bat, to take a 16-15 lead as daylight dimmed.

That brought the  Buffs up in the bottom of the fifth, and they produced four runs before the game was halted. In that final at-bat, Anjie Serrano singled and went to third on a throwing error; Abby Parr doubled to score Serrano and Manwarren singled in Parr. Gutierrez drew a walk and Mya Cruz and Yesenia Castro followed with run-scoring singles to give them that 19-16 lead. When Angel Serrano struck out for the out number two, the umpires gathered with the coaches and the game was stopped.

There were many offensive heroes in the final game, perhaps the best came from the bat of Castro, who finally worked her way into the lineup as the designated player (hitter). She went 4-for-4 with 3 RBIs including a big home run in the third.

“She’s worked very hard to find a way to get into the lineup, and I couldn’t be happier for her,” Moquett said. “She’s been a great teammate, always positive and it’s great to see her have this kind of day.”

Parr went 3-for-4 with 4 runs scored and an RBI; Manwarren 3-for-4, 3 runs, 3 rbi’s; McGraw 2-for-3 with 4 runs, 3 RBIs and another home run (3rd of the day); Gutierrez 2-for-3, 3 runs and an rbi; Cruz 2-for-4, 4 RBI and Castro with her big game. Manwarren pitched the fifth inning and came away with the victory, her 14th of the season against just two losses (Gutierrez is 2-1).

Now 16-3, the Buffs are also 9-2 in the Western Athletic Conference with one WAC game remaining on Thursday when they host Hays High in a single game. The Junior Varsity will play at 4 p.m. with the varsity game to follow at approximately 5:30 p.m. That will be the regular-season finale.

More important to the Buffs, though, was what transpired in Liberal Tuesday. The Reds defeated Dodge City’s Demons, 1-0, in the first game of a WAC doubleheader before Dodge answered with a 12-8 win in the late game. That put Dodge City at 7-4 in the WAC with one game left Thursday with Liberal. The result is a 2-game lead with the one game left, thus ensuring the Buffs have won the WAC outright.

With the 2020 season cancelled due to COVID-19, the Buffs were able to defend their WAC title of 2019. It is the fourth league title under Moquett’s guidance. Class 6A regional pairings will be announced Saturday and there’s a chance the Buffs will either be the fourth or fifth seeded team in the 16-team West bracket. If they are fourth they would host a four-team regional next week. If not, they would be on the road for the same four-team bracket. They currently are a half game behind Wichita Northwest’s 16-2 mark, but the Grizzlies have games Thursday with Goddard (13-5) and Goddard-Eisenhower (15-3).

Game 1

TMP-Marian 002 033 3 -- 11 14 5

Garden City 401 340 x -- 12 15 4

TMP—Augustine (L) and Coulter; GC—Manwarren (W, 13-2) and Anj. Serrano. 2B—TMP (Augustine, VonLintel), GC (McGraw). HR—TMP (Augustine 2, Coulter), GC (McGraw 2). LOB—TMP (10), GC (6).

Game 2

TMP-Marian 402 46 -- 16 11 3

Garden City 541 54 -- 19 19 12

TMP—Allen, Augustine (L, 2) and Coulter; GC—Gutierrez, Manwarren (W, 5) and Anj. Serrano. 2B—GC (Parr). 3B—GC (Manwarren). HR—TMP (Coulter), GC (McGraw, Castro). LOB—TMP 6, GC 8.