GARDEN CITY, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College baseball team has prided itself on its ability to handle adversity. The T-Birds have shaken off injuries to key sophomores, mother nature and the eventual slumps that come with playing a 50-plus game schedule.
Mired in a five-game losing skid, including two home losses on Thursday against Garden City Community College, the T-Birds made their latest statement with a bounce-back performance Saturday with road wins of 22-2 and 12-7 to earn a series split with the Broncbusters.
"What a difference a day makes," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland. "It was a pretty good effort all the way around from the guys. I thought we played exceptionally well, took advantage of some mistakes by Garden City, and I'm really happy with how we responded."
With the victories, Cloud County (29-20 overall, 16-12 KJCCC) surpassed last year's win total of 27 and the 29 wins are the most for a Cloud County team since the 2002 season (29-23 overall).
The two wins over Garden City (26-21 overall, 12-16 KJCCC) also leaves Cloud County in a tie for third place in the KJCCC West standings with one four-game series remaining in the regular season against Hutchinson Community College next week.
"This is a team that has experienced a lot. We've only played eight of our 49 games at home," Gilliland said. "But adversity makes you go one way or the other. Today, these guys showed they still have fight left in them."
Cloud County came out swinging, literally and figuratively, in Game Three as it scored a season-high 22 runs on 10 hits, while taking advantage of five errors by the Broncbusters.
The T-Birds scored four in the top of the first inning, then blew the game open with a six-run third and nine-run fourth innings.
Seven different players had a hit, led by two-hit days from sophomore Kade Wallace (2-for-5, 2 runs, 1 RBI), freshman Davis Pratt (2-for-3, 4 runs, 1 RBI) and freshman Tylor Jans, who was 2-for-4 with three runs scored and a career-high 5 RBI.
After scoring just one run in the first 16 innings T-Birds' ability to cut down on their strikeouts that led to the offensive turnaround. They struck out just three times in Saturday's opener.
"It was just really good, quality at-bats up and down the lineup in that first game," Gilliland said. "We cut down the strikeouts. We struck out 11 times Thursday with the wind blowing in, but we shuffled the lineup up and continued to grind out at-bats one after another. The guys played with the right mindset and with a lot of confidence today."
On the mound, freshman Josh Laukkanen was the beneficiary from all the run support. The right-hander moved to 4-1 overall on the season with a strong five-inning performance, limiting Garden City to two runs on four hits while striking out three.
"Josh was very good and did a nice job of keeping hitters off-balanced," Gilliland said. "It's not easy to have those long breaks between innings, but he did a nice job of coming right back after we'd score to throw up zeros."
The offensive onslaught from Cloud County would continue in the series finale as the T-Birds scored 12 runs on 16 hits — their second highest total in a game this season — powered by the trio of Jans, redshirt freshman Ramon Vingochea and freshman Connor Laux.
Vingochea was 4-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI in Game Four, while Laux also threw out four hits (4-for-5) while driving in three.
As for Jans, who entered the day with five at-bats on the season after spending most of his freshman season in the Cloud County pitching rotation, he added a 2-for-4 performance in Game Four.
Jans capped his career day with his first career home run in the fifth inning that made it a 7-1 lead for Cloud County at the time.
"I thought Tylor and Connor were outstanding. We took Jans out of the rotation to give him a chance to hit and he's a dangerous bat with big-time power," Gilliland said. "Connor probably had one of his best days, as well. The wind was swirling again today, so we went speed at the top of the order and challenged guys to be pesky, put together competitive at-bats even if they don't get a hit, and make pitchers work for every out. Connor was able to do that and capped those at-bats off with hits."
Wallace added another two-hit game in the series finale, finishing 2-for-5, while Pratt (2-for-3, 4 runs, 1 RBI) and sophomore Jackson Dietel (1-for-2, 3 runs, 3 RBI) all had big performances in the victory, as well.
Dietel's day was not done as he pitched seven strong innings, earning his team-leading fifth victory of the season.
The southpaw had a workmanlike outing, limiting Garden City to five earned runs on seven hits while striking out four.
"He was really good and has been really good for us all year," Gilliland said of Dietel. "You know what you're going to get from him. You know we're going to have a chance to win a ballgame. You're going to get strikes and you're going to get strikes with multiple different pitches. He gives us competitive outings every time."
Up next for the T-Birds will be their final non-conference game of the regular season. They host No. 8 ranked Cowley College (36-10, 23-5 KJCCC East) at 3 p.m. Tuesday for a single, nine-inning game at Lee Doyen Field in Concordia.
"It'll be nice to be back at home and Cowley is going to be a very good club," Gilliland said. "We'll need to do what we did today and that's play well, worry about us and let the results happen."