CONCORDIA, Kansas — In what has been a wet and wild spring for the Cloud County Community College baseball team, Thursday's impromptu home doubleheader against Hutchinson Community College was just the latest wrinkle of the 2019 season.
Cloud County loaded the bus Thursday morning and headed to McPherson for the first two games of a four-game set against the Blue Dragons. But, due to unplayable field conditions in McPherson and in Hutchinson from the recent rain, the T-Birds reversed course as the site for the doubleheader was switched to Concordia.
The day would end with the two teams leaving Lee Doyen Field with a split after Cloud County (30-21 overall, 17-13 KJCCC) won 9-7 in Game One before falling 6-3 to the first-place Blue Dragons (37-17 overall, 21-9 KJCCC) in the nightcap.
"Thank god our guys are resilient. I don't know what happened or why it happened, but we ended up on the bus, then in Salina, then back here in Concordia (Thursday)," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland. "Our guys did what they always do; they embraced it and found a way to get a win out of it."
The victory gave the T-Birds their 30th win of the season, the most in a season for Cloud County since the 1989 team won a school record 46 games. The win also allowed Cloud County to maintain a one-game lead over Barton Community College for fourth place in the KJCCC West standings with two regular season games remaining.
"The 30 wins are special, but that's something we'll reflect on at the end of the year," Gilliland said. "This team has a lot left and we're playing well at the right time. We just want to keep on playing good baseball."
Cloud County was able to rally for a 9-7 win in Game One in part to a few big sequences in the sixth inning.
First, in the top-half of the inning, freshman left-handed reliever Trey Asher entered the game in a bases loaded, no out situation. After a walk and soft double to right-field tied the game for Hutchinson, Asher was able to get the next three guys out to keep it a 7-7 ballgame heading to the bottom of the inning.
"He's been tremendous in that role. He comes in with great poise and composure," Gilliland said of Asher, who picked up his fourth win of the season. "He gave up the double, which wasn't hit real hard, but then settled in and made big pitches to get outs."
Then, with two outs and two on the home-half of the sixth, freshman catcher Griffin Larsen gave the T-Birds the lead back as he fought off a two-strike pitch through the right side of the infield for the go-ahead RBI single.
Larsen finished 2-for-2 with a pair of walks and two runs scored in Game One and reached base a total of six times on Thursday.
"Griffin put together really good at-bats all day," Gilliland said. "He has great plate vision, so he's able to find his way down to first a lot on walks, but he also has the ability to change the game with one swing. He's a guy we'd like to get going here down the stretch."
Cloud County sophomore Jackson Dietel, who drove in four runs (2-for-4) in Game One as the starting first baseman, then got the nod to pitch the top of the seventh and was able to nail down his second save of his career.
As for Game Two, it was a pitchers' duel for eight innings as the two teams were deadlocked at 2-2 heading to the ninth inning.
Cloud County's two runs came via a solo home run by freshman Connor Laux in the third inning as he ambushed a 2-0 fastball and lined it out to left. Laux then singled, stole second and scored on a RBI single from Dietel in the fifth inning that tied the game.
Freshman right-hander Bradan Pierce took over in relief in the fifth inning and proceeded to throw up zeros in what was his best outing of the season.
Pierce didn't allow a hit through his first four innings while recording five strikeouts. Unfortunately, he hit a snag in the ninth as Hutchinson struck for four runs to surge ahead for the 6-3 victory.
"I thought Bradan was phenomenal. He has big-time stuff and it's been an interesting year for him," Gilliland said. "We've seen him develop and what we saw (Thursday) was the culmination of a lot of hard work from him. He went through the best offense in the league multiple times. If we could have just scored for him somewhere, take a 3-2 lead, then it changes the complexion of that game."
Cloud County was held without a hit over the final three innings of Game Two, with the T-Birds' one run in the ninth coming courtesy of a walk to Larsen, two passed balls and a wild pitch.
Laux finished 2-for-5 with the home run and two runs scored, while Dietel was 2-for-4 with a RBI to pace the offense.
Both teams will now turn the page and get ready for Saturday's doubleheader, currently scheduled for 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday in McPherson.
One win on Saturday for Cloud County, or a loss for Barton against Dodge City Community College, would guarantee the T-Birds a first-round home playoff series for the first time since joining the KJCCC.
As for Hutchinson, the Blue Dragons head into Saturday trying to hold on for a KJCCC West title as they hold a one-game lead over Butler Community College.
"We just have to continue to play the game. We've thrown out thinking about the postseason stuff and who our opponent is since last week," Gilliland said. "We started worrying about us and just playing the game. We'll continue with that path and let things sort themselves out. Whether we're on the road or at home, it doesn't matter. As long as we play well, we can win."