Weather has not been kind to the Garden City softball team. The Lady Buffaloes entered Thursday’s doubleheader at Great Bend with just eight games under their belt. At 13-1 entering the game, the Lady Panther pitchers were unkind to the Garden City hitters, allowing just three runs to win game one 6-2, and take game two 5-1.
“We knew coming out that Garden was going to be very tough,” said Great Bend coach Carrie Minton. “We know they’re very aggressive at the plate and like to play a short game. We knew we’d have to play defensively very well. I think our pitchers did a great job of keeping them off-balance and making them go after some pitches maybe they didn’t want to go after.”
Great Bend 6, Garden City 2
Great Bend (15-1 overall, 5-1 WAC) got on the board early in game one. With the first three batters loading the bases, Elizabeth Barber’s double to the fence scored all three runs. Kelsie Doll’s two-out infield singled plated another run for a 4-0 lead.
Garden City (6-4, 2-2) struck back with two runs in the second inning. Jennifer St. Clair led things off with a double and scored on an error. With the bases loaded and no outs, pitcher Kori Thornton helped herself with a single up the middle to drive in another run. As was the case in the first inning, Great Bend got out of a jam with an inning-ending double-play.
“We just couldn’t string together the hits,” Lady Buffalo coach John Ford said. “A lot of that is attributed to Great Bend’s pitching. They have two fabulous pitchers a great defense behind them. I thought our kids played okay, we just couldn’t string the hits.”
Stephanie Morrison doubled to start Great Bend’s half of the inning, scoring on an error. McKenna Mauler’s sacrifice fly scored Kaylie Doll for what turned out to be the final run of the game in just the second innings.
In the circle, Panther freshman Hunter Middleton shut down the Garden City bats, retiring 16-of-17 batters until two Lady Buffaloes reached with two outs in the seventh inning. She picked up the win, striking out six and allowing just five hits.
Junior Kori Thornton pitched all six innings for Garden City, giving up seven hits and walking four. She rang up two strikeouts. Offensively, Thornton led the Buffs with two hits and an RBI.
Kaylie Doll and Morrison each had two hits for the Panthers in game one, and both scored two runs. Barber finished with three RBIs on her one hit.
Great Bend 5, Garden City 1
The Panthers scored a run in each of the first two innings to get behind the wheel in game two. Kaylie Doll singled and scored on a Dakota Sanders single up the middle in the first inning, and Tarynn Stueder reached on a walk and scored on Morrison single to left field.
Great Bend’s second freshman ace took over in the circle in game two. Braylin Bretz kept Garden City off the board until the fourth inning, allowing just five hits and striking out two in her seven innings of work.
The Buffaloes loaded the bases with just one out in the fourth inning, but only Leslie Ford managed to cross the plate on a groundout by Jamie St. Clair.
Great Bend answered in their half of the fourth with two more runs. Stueder singled and scored on a wild pitch. Morrison drove in Samantha Dreiling for her second RBI of the game to give the Panthers a 4-1 lead.
In the fifth inning, Mauler reached base for the first time in the game and scored on a Barber’s single to right field. The sophomore Barber finished the day with three hits and four RBIs. The top four batters in the Panther lineup came up with 12 of the team’s 17 hits.
“The top part of our lineup was very tough, and they have been tough for us all season,” said Minton. “It’s nice to see them continue to build confidence at the plate and come up with those hits whenever we need them.”
Ford pitched all seven innings for Garden City in game two, allowing most of her 10 hits allowed after the fourth inning. She struck out six in seven innings of work.
Morrison had two hits in game two, scoring twice, and leading all batters with five hits on the day. Kaylie Doll added three hits, three runs, and a sacrifice bunt.
Jennifer St. Clair was the only Garden City player with two hits in game two.
Overall, Ford said his team played well after seeing little competition. Four of the six wins entering the game had come against WAC foe Liberal.
“We haven’t faced a good team like Great Bend yet,” he said. “I’m glad the first time we saw them we could come out and compete. That’s a good sign.”
Ford’s team is in the middle of a busy stretch, making up for postponed games with eight games in six days. That stretch includes Dodge City on Friday, and powerhouse Goddard Eisenhower on Monday.
“I’d love to say that you try to pace yourself, but I don’t know if you can pace yourself when doubleheaders mean so much, and they’re so highly charged with good teams where you have to play intense ball,” he said. “It becomes a matter of can you sustain it and keep sustaining it, and if you get knocked down or hit a speed bump, can you get back up and keep going.”
For the Panthers, who split a doubleheader against Hays last week, the sweep means at least a share of the conference title. If Garden City can get a win against the Lady Indians when they meet, Great Bend will take the title outright. It’s a feat accomplished with not one senior on the roster.
“We don’t like to talk about the age factor,” Minton said. “Our girls are very competitive. They go out to win every time they’re on the field. They work really hard in practice every day.”