HIGHLAND, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College baseball team has had a flair for the dramatics in 2019. Sitting at 25 wins on the season, the T-Birds have come from behind in 10 of them.
Of those 10 wins, Cloud County has scored to take the lead in the final two innings in eight of them, including in each of the last four games following their latest late-game heroics on Tuesday; a five-run ninth inning that propelled the T-Birds to a 9-8 road win over Highland Community College.
"I don't really know how to explain it, but it has seemed like we've been able to come up with a lot of big hits in big spots. That's a testament to the guys," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland, whose team has now won six of its last seven. "They've been able to find a way to win. I don't know if we played particularly (Tuesday), but to score five in the ninth was impressive and to come back and win; we'll take it."
A pair of freshmen delivered the big blow on Tuesday as third baseman Davis Pratt hammered a three-run, bases clearing double into the right-center field gap to tie the score at 8-8.
One batter later, outfielder Alex Rice peppered the same gap to score Pratt with the go-ahead run.
"Both of those balls were just absolutely crushed into the right-center field gap," Gilliland said. "We were facing Highland's closer and he got behind in some counts that allowed us to get into advantageous counts. Davis and Alex both put really good swings on the ball."
Pratt led all Cloud County players with a 3-for-5 day at the plate with the three RBI and two runs scored, giving him 12 hits in his last six games.
Freshman catcher Clayton Leathers drove in a pair of runs, and sophomore designated hitter Jackson Dietel launched a two-run home run — his third home run in the last two games and seventh of the season — to help pace the offense.
The win helped erase what had been a frustrating first eight innings for the T-Birds as they issued eight walks and struggled to bunch hits. All on the heels of an emotional weekend that saw them take three of four games from Barton Community College.
"It kind of felt like a little bit of a hangover from the weekend (series win over Barton)," Gilliland said. "We didn't throw enough strikes on the mound and I thought Highland really did play well. We probably didn't deserve to win that one, apart from that really good ninth inning at the end."
On the mound, freshman right-hander Brayden Radcliffe picked up the win after not allowing an earned run in the eighth inning, making him 3-0 with a spotless ERA through his first five collegiate innings, and sophomore righty Corben Peters nailed down is fifth save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth.
Sophomore second baseman Cooper Schlochtermeier provided the exclamation point on the win, diving to snare a line drive for the final out of the ballgame.
Up next for Cloud County will be a big four-game set against Dodge City Community College, starting at 1 p.m. Friday in Dodge City, as the calendar creeps closer to the postseason.
The Conquistadors will enter the series 20-20 overall and 4-16 in the KJCCC West, but still present a lot of danger as they have won the season series against the T-Birds in each of the last three seasons.
"Every conference game is huge at this point with three series left. Every one of them is big and I expect us to be ready to go against Dodge City," Gilliland said. "They haven't had a ton of success this year, but they are still one of the scariest offenses in the league and they always seem to play well against us. We'll have our hands full, but I think we'll be ready to go."