EL DORADO, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College baseball team had to settle for a series split against Butler Community College after dropping both road games on Sunday by the final scores of 8-2 and 9-3.
Cloud County (22-18 overall, 14-10 KJCCC) swept the first two games against Butler (26-15 overall, 18-10 KJCCC) on Thursday in Concordia, but struggled to put together complete games Sunday against a Grizzlies team also trying to solidify a top-4 spot in the KJCCC West standings.
As of Sunday evening, Cloud County sits in third place behind Butler and league-leaders Barton (34-9 overall, 18-6 KJCCC).
"The split kind of keeps us where we were at before the series, but we certainly missed an opportunity to strike (Sunday)," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland. "When you win the first two games, you head into Day Two with a huge opportunity to take a series and it's disappointing. We didn't play well enough today and Butler certainly played well."
In Game One, Butler was able to jump out to a quick 4-0 lead through the first two innings, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the first and bottom of the second.
Cloud County got a run back in the top of the third on the eighth home run of the season by sophomore Erik Sabrowski.
The T-Birds were able to grind out seven hits and create scoring threats against Butler's starting pitcher Drake Norton (9-1), but unfortunately couldn't come up with the key hits as Norton was able to maneuver all seven innings.
"I felt like we swung the bats OK against one of the best pitchers in the league (Norton), we just couldn't get him at the right time and left a lot of guys on base," Gilliland said. "We had chances to punch back and couldn't get the big hit."
Cloud County's second run of the game came in the top of the seventh inning on a RBI groundout off the bat of sophomore Ryan Krolikowski.
Sophomore catcher Tucker Catlett was 2-for-4 to lead Cloud County's lineup, while fellow sophomore Matt Bondarchuk reached base three times with a single and pair of walks and swiped his team-leading 12 stolen base of the season.
As for Game Two, the T-Birds got off to a great start as they built a 2-0 lead through the top of the fourth inning and were rolling behind a quality start from freshman Chris Koehler.
Koehler held the Grizzlies scoreless through three innings and ended up striking out six in 4 1/3 innings of work.
Butler threw a wrench into things in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings, striking for seven total runs to take a 7-2 lead, thanks to some aggressiveness on the base paths (four steals) and four Cloud County errors on in the finale.
"Chris was really good from the start and showed some of the best stuff since he's got here," Gilliland said. "I think he may have run out of gas a bit and then we let Butler speed the game up on us. They are one of the best base stealing teams in the country. We did a great job containing that all series until Game Four. It sped us up, led to some errors and got Chris out of rhythm."
Offensively, Cloud County received an RBI single from sophomore third baseman Tauren Langley, who also added a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, and a RBI double from redshirt freshman Aidan Huggins.
Catlett added to his solid day at the plate with a 2-for-4 effort in Game Two and Sabrowski also added two hits and two runs scored.
Sophomore right-hander Jacob Uhing pitched 3 1/13 innings of relief Sunday, with the first three being scoreless. He limited the Grizzlies to two runs on four hits and struck out one.
Cloud County will play a pair of non-conference games at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Monday against Kansas Wesleyan JV before jumping back into KJCCC West action on Thursday at home against No. 18 ranked Barton.
It'll be a crucial series for the T-Birds as, with eight conference games remaining in the regular season, they try to hold on for a top-4 finish in the standings and a first-round home playoff series.
"Barton is awfully good. But it's a team that, if we play well, I think we can stay right there with," Gilliland said. "There's still a lot to be sorted out with the standings and every game is going to be crucial at this point."