Armstrong, Wallace each hit first career home runs in Saturday split against Dodge City

Cloud County redshirt freshman Jace Armstrong hit his first career home run in Cloud County's 12-2 win over Dodge City
Cloud County redshirt freshman Jace Armstrong hit his first career home run in Cloud County's 12-2 win over Dodge City

CONCORDIA, Kansas — Hits with men on base was the story of Saturday's doubleheader for the Cloud County Community College baseball team.

The T-Birds excelled with men on in their 12-2 drubbing of Dodge City Community College in Game One, but had the scripted flipped in Game Two's 5-2 loss to the visiting Conquistadors.

Hunting back-to-back series wins, the T-Birds (27-16 overall, 14-10 KJCCC) instead had to settle for a split with Dodge City (22-22 overall, 6-18 KJCCC).

"We really needed to win that series. We've played enough this year to create the expectation to come in and win the series and we didn't. It wasn't one thing in particular we did wrong, but we just didn't get it done," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland. "It stings because I thought we were ready to go to this weekend. Dodge City played pretty well in Game Two each day and we just couldn't get it done."

The difference between the two games was simple. Cloud County cashed in 12 of its 15 base runners in the Game One rout, finishing with 12 hits and just four men left on base, while in Game Two the T-Birds produced seven hits and six walks, but left 11 men on the base paths.

"It all comes down to having 16 base runners and two runs in Game Two," Gilliland said. "If we get just one big hit there in the middle innings, we likely knock Dodge City's starting pitcher out of the game and it plays differently. It came down to timely hitting. We had it in Game One and couldn't get it in Game Two."

Cloud County had the first three hitters of Game Two reach as freshman Clayton Loranger earned a leadoff walk and came home to score one batter later when sophomore first baseman Kade Wallace launched his first career home run to left.

"He's developing power, starting to hit a lot more doubles and home runs in batting practice," Gilliland said of Wallace. "He's a good hitter and power is usually the last thing to come and it is starting to come for him."

Sophomore pitcher Jackson Dietel then earned a walk against Dodge City starter Padraic Walsh, but the right-hander was able to gather himself after that and ended up going six innings to pick up the win for the Conquistadors.

Dietel, who went seven strong innings in just his second loss this season, limited Dodge City to five runs, three earned, on eight hits.

Two off-speed pitched left up would account for most of the damage against Dietel as Conner Kessler hit a two-run home run in the fifth to give Dodge City a 3-2 lead, then first baseman Garrett McGowan hit a two-run home run to right in the seventh that extended it to a 5-2 lead.

McGowan and Cloud County sophomore Grant Schmidt, who homered in the Game Three victory, are tied for third in the KJCCC with 11 home runs this season.

"McGowan finally got one. He's one of the best hitters in the league and we had done a good job with him most of the series," Gilliland said. "Both home runs for Dodge City were off-speed pitches that were left up. It was unfortunate because I thought Jackson pitched well enough to win."

It was a disappointing end to a day that started very promising for the T-Birds after they rolled to the 12-2 abbreviated victory in Game Three.

The T-Birds busted the game open with a seven-run second inning, jump started by a two-run home run to dead center off the bat of redshirt freshman Jace Armstrong.

Armstrong, making his fifth start of the season, lined a bullet off Dodge City's Jonny McIntrye to dead center field for his first career home run.

"I kind of had a feeling matchup wise with Jace (Saturday). And the funny thing is I was thinking about playing him, then Jace was the first person at the ballpark. I said 'You know what, that's a sign,' so we put him in the lineup," Gilliland said. "The kid is awesome and took advantage of an opportunity (Saturday) and I hope he runs with it."

The T-Birds poured it on from there as Laukannen had a RBI double, Wallace produced a RBI groundout, Dietel hit a RBI single and Schmidt capped the inning with a two-run home run in succession.

Freshman shortstop Connor Laux added a RBI hit-by-pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth inning before Loranger ended the ballgame with a two-run single to left field to make it a 10-run lead for the T-Birds.

Loranger finished 2-for-4 with 3 RBI in Game One, while Wallace (2-for-3), Dietel (2-for-3) and Armstrong (2-for-3) all finished with multi-hit games.

On the mound, freshman right-hander Josh Laukkanen (3-1) was sharp as he went all five innings, limiting Dodge City to two runs on six hits while striking out seven and not walking a batter.

"He was very good and has continued to just get better and better," Gilliland said of Laukkanen. "He went through a little rough stretch in the middle of the season, but he seems to be hitting his stride again."

Cloud County will now turn its attention toward a road doubleheader Monday out in Alva, Oklahoma as the T-Birds will take on Northwestern Oklahoma State University JV. Game times are set for 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

"It'll be a chance to get some other guys on the mound again, keep people sharp and hopefully go down there and win two ballgames," Gilliland said.