GREAT BEND, Kansas — Sandwiched in the middle of a competitive and crowded KJCCC West, the Cloud County Community College baseball team produced one of its best days on the diamond to date as the T-Birds swept Sunday's road doubleheader against Barton Community College.
The wins of 11-6 and 10-9 on Sunday gave the T-Birds (24-14 overall, 12-8 KJCCC) a 3-1 series victory over the Cougars (26-15 overall, 13-11 KJCCC), the defending Region VI champions and NJCAA World Series participants.
"These games were huge for a lot of reasons. But more than anything, this team had a lot of fun (Sunday)," said Cloud County head coach Eric Gilliland. "It was one of those days where we had a lot of fun at the ballpark. Those wins were huge, no other way around it. It keeps us alive and all options open. Big time effort from our guys to sweep a team on the road that went to the NJCAA World Series last year."
Taking down the Cougars out in Great Bend is no easy task. Cloud County, which now sits fifth in the KJCCC West standings a game back of first-place Colby, needed a number of individuals to rise to the occasion.
And perhaps no one exemplified that more than sophomore pitcher and part-time first baseman, Jackson Dietel.
Dietel, who was called upon to get a save in Friday's Game Two victory, got the start on the mound in Game Four on Sunday and tossed six strong innings, allowing just two runs while striking out six in the no-decision.
As good as he was on the mound in the series, it was his performance at the plate Sunday that helped make the sweep possible as Dietel finished 4-for-6 with two home runs and six runs driven in, tying his career high.
His biggest swing came in the ninth, with Cloud County trailing 9-8 and down to its final three outs, as he launched a 0-2 pitch from Barton's Coleton Crisp over the center field wall to tie the game at 9-9.
"I told the guys before the game that 'Somebody is going to be the guy today,' and I don't know if anyone could have done that more than Jackson this series," Gilliland said.
Dietel's home run in the ninth gave the T-Birds new life after they had a 7-0 lead through the game's first three innings flipped into a 9-8 deficit, following three runs from in the home-half of the eighth.
Cloud County had to avoid near disaster again in the bottom of the ninth, when the Cougars loaded the bases with no outs, but freshman left-hander Trey Asher wiggled out of trouble with two force outs and a strikeout to send the game to extra innings.
Asher wasn't done as he pitched two more spotless innings of relief, picking up his second win of the season. The southpaw threw 25 of his 31 pitches for strikes and bought time for Cloud County's offense.
"He showed unbelievable poise. He's such a great kid and deserved that moment," Gilliland said of Asher. "He did a phenomenal job. He mixed three pitches for a strike and I don't think he missed a location for three straight innings. He never flinched."
The T-Birds would push across the eventual game-winning run in the top of the 11th inning after it was their turn to load the bases with no outs. Sophomore designated hitter Blake Manuel fought off a two-strike pitch to the middle of the diamond. Barton would turn a 6-4-3 double play, but not before Dietel scored from third after he led off the inning with a single.
"There have been times this year where we haven't gotten guys home in those situations. The difference in the game was we had a bases loaded, nobody out situation and Barton had a bases loaded, nobody out situation, and we found a way to get a guy in," Gilliland said. "Blake got the job done and Dietel crossed the plate with the go-ahead run, which was fitting."
As for Game Three, the T-Birds again had some late-inning magic as they erased a 4-2 deficit through five innings to rally for an 11-6 victory, sparked by a seven-run sixth inning.
Cloud County would hit three home runs in the sixth, starting with a leadoff laser off the bat of freshman third baseman Davis Pratt.
Two batters later, freshman catcher Griffin Larsen launched a two-run shot to left that gave Cloud County a 5-4 lead.
It was the first of two home runs on the day for Larsen, who was 2-for-4 with the 2 RBI, giving him six long balls on the season.
"Griffin hit a huge home run in a big spot there in Game One and I thought (Sunday) was one of his best days of baseball since he's been a T-Bird," Gilliland said.
Sophomore outfielder Grant Schmidt capped the sixth inning with a 3-run home run, his team-leading 10th of the season, all of which have come against KJCCC West opponents.
Overshadowed on the afternoon was the huge day from freshman outfielder Clayton Loranger. Cloud County's leadoff man was 2-for-2 with three walks and four runs scored in Game One and finished the afternoon 5-for-8 with six runs scored, 2 RBI and two stolen bases.
On the mound, freshman right-hander Josh Laukkanen picked up the win after going 5.2 innings with four strikeouts.
Sophomore first baseman Kade Wallace finished the afternoon with four hits, and redshirt freshman Ramon Vingochea was 3-for-5 with a RBI and run scored in Game Two to round out Cloud County's top performers.
Up next for the T-Birds will be a single, nine-inning game at 2 p.m. Tuesday on the road against Highland Community College.