CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College baseball team bounced back from an 8-2 loss in Game One to rally late for a 4-3 victory in Game Two, earning a much-needed split in the opening doubleheader of a four-game set against Barton Community College.
Sophomore third baseman Blake Manuel played hero in Game Two as he delivered a clutch two-out, pinch-hit RBI single that capped a three-run eighth inning for the T-Birds (22-14 overall, 10-8 KJCCC), erased a 3-1 deficit going into the inning.
"I'm really happy for Blake. He's been here as long as I have, both of us in our third year, and he's never once made us question his buy-in," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland. "He's as all-in on Cloud County baseball as anybody and for him to get that hit is pretty special. He's earned and deserved that one."
Manuel served a single into left field off a slider from Barton's closer Tanner Howe, who entered the day leading the KJCCC in saves with nine, to score freshman outfielder Clayton Loranger.
Loranger was one of the catalysts in the eighth inning as Cloud County's leadoff man smacked an opposite-field single that was mishandled by Barton's right-fielder. The ball would roll to wall, allowing two runs to score to tie the game at 3-3 and for Loranger to cruise into second.
It was Loranger's second hit of the game, making him 2-for-4 with a walk and RBI in Game Two.
Cloud County had to hold its breath one final time in the ninth as Barton loaded the bases with two outs against sophomore left-hander, Jackson Dietel.
Dietel was able to work out of trouble, though, as he fielded a hot shot right back at him from Barton's Tyler Bandiera to record the final out and collect his first career save.
"Throwing strikes (Friday) was important and Dietel only had five walks on the year coming into the game. We wanted to go to him there," Gilliland said of the move to Dietel, who used Friday's appearance as a makeshift bullpen day before he starts Game Four on Sunday. "We think he is the best strike thrower and competitor we have. It got a little rocky there, but he came through for us in the end."
Freshman third baseman Davis Pratt finished 3-for-4 with a RBI single and freshman Josh Laukkanen went 2-for-4 with a double in his first start at second base this season to help lead the Cloud County offense in Game Two.
On the mound, sophomore Corben Peters picked up the win with two innings of relief, highlighted by a scoreless eighth inning where Peters worked around two errors and a wild pitch in the frame.
Freshman right-hander Joseph Karall got the start in Game Two — his first start inside conference play — and threw a gem as he went a career-long six innings, limiting Barton (26-13 overall, 13-9 KJCCC) to one run on four hits with three strikeouts.
"Joe just threw strikes. He commanded a couple of different pitches and kept Barton off-balance, which on a cold and windy day like (Friday) is really the recipe," Gilliland said. "The ball wasn't flying, so he continued to pound the zone and made hitters earn their way to first base."
The win in Game Two helped alleviate some of the frustration for the T-Birds after they fell 8-2 in the series opener and had an uncharacteristic day out in the field.
Cloud County, which entered the series fourth in the KJCCC in fielding percentage at .963, committed seven errors on Friday, three of them in Game One that led to four unearned runs for the Cougars.
"We didn't throw enough strikes, didn't take care of the baseball, and we didn't score runners in scoring positions when we had chances in Game One," Gilliland said. "For whatever reason, it was the first time this year I felt we didn't play with great effort or a great mentality. I think we're fortunate to come away with a win (Friday) with how we played most of the day."
The T-Birds were within two runs of the Cougars at 4-2 after Loranger scored on a wild pitch in the home-half of the fifth.
Unfortunately for Cloud County, Barton answered back with two runs in the sixth and a pair of unearned runs in the seventh to capture an 8-2 win in Game One.
Freshman catcher Griffin Larsen, who threw out a pair of would-be base stealers, finished 1-for-3 with a RBI double, while Loranger and redshirt freshman Ramon Vingochea each produced singles in the series opener.
The T-Birds will now prepare for the second-half of the series, scheduled for 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday out in Great Bend.
Sunday's games will be pivotal ones for both teams in a logjammed KJCCC West, where the first-place and seventh-place teams are separated by just two games in the standings.
"The stakes are high in every series from here on out with the Jayhawk West being basically up for grabs," Gilliland said. "Every game is big and this series is huge because Barton is near the top. Finding a way to split or win the series on Sunday could change the course of the season, so we have to get better and play better. We stayed alive with a win (Friday)."