In the battle of the Panthers Friday in Great Bend, there could be only one top cat. The home Panthers swept visiting Nickerson, winning game one 5-2, and circling the bases plenty of times in game two to win 15-5 in five innings.
Great Bend 5, Nickerson 2
Great Bend’s Braden Jones pitched seven strong innings for the win in game one. The junior allowed just four hits and struck out seven in the complete-game win.
“He came out and he really pounded the zone,” said Great Bend coach Randy Beck. “He threw a lot of strikes – I’d say 50 of his 80 pitches were strikes. That’s a really high percentage in the zone, getting ahead of hitters and keeping them off-balance. He had his fastball and curveball in the zone and threw a nice game again. He’s been a really consistent pitcher for us this year.”
The Great Bend (9-3) offense took some pressure of Jones early with a run in each of the first two innings. Connor Sell was hit by a Justin Engelland pitch to open the bottom half of the first, and the senior came around to score on a Matt Marshall single. In the second inning, Mitch Kottas led things off with a triple, scoring on a wild pitch for the 2-0 lead.
Freshman Jacob Mader got the first Nickerson (10-6) hit in the third inning on an odd bounce near first base. He scored the first Panther run on a sacrifice fly from Tyler Owen.
Jones helped himself out in the fourth inning, singling to right field to drive in Kottas. Jace Bowman added an RBI triple in the fifth inning, then scored on a sacrifice fly from Marshall for the final Great Bend run.
Nickerson put two runners on the base path in the sixth inning for the first time all day. With two outs, Conor Gomes ripped a single to center field. The hit scored only one run, and Engelland was thrown out at second to end the threat.
Engelland threw all six innings for Nickerson, giving up five earned runs on nine hits. He struck out three.
Byron Young had two of the four hits in the loss. Gomes and Owen drove in the two runs.
Kottas reached base three times with a triple and a single. Bowman added two hits, including a triple, and Sell reached base three times with two hits, scoring twice.
Great Bend 15, Nickerson 5 (5 innings)
After a competitive game one from both sides on the mound, the starters struggled in game two. Marshall allowed one earned run on three hits in the first inning. Quintin Crandall, the Nickerson ace who has a 6-0 record on the mound, singled and scored in the inning.
Gomes got the start for Nickerson, giving up four runs on two hits and two walks before junior Jake Stiverson entered the game. He, too, struggled, allowing one of Gomes’ runners to score, and letting two more Panthers cross the plate for a 7-2 lead.
Kottas had the big hit for Great Bend in the inning. With the bases-loaded and no outs, the future Barton Cougar drilled a pitch down the right field line for his second triple of the day, this time driving in three runs. After hitting two doubles in a sweep against Liberal on Thursday, and throwing a one-hitter against the Redskins, the senior hit two triples and a single on Friday, driving in three runs and scoring twice. He also walked and was hit by a pitch.
“Kottas has been struggling a little bit at the plate, but the last couple of days he’s really pulled out of the slump,” said Beck. “He’s seeing the ball a little better, has a good approach at the plate, and is hitting some good line drives instead of trying to hit the ball to the wall.”
Sell walked in the inning to score Dakota Conaway, and Bowman added a two-RBI single.
Nickerson would go on to score three more runs over the next two innings. Crandall doubled and scored in his last at-bat of the day, and Ryan O’Toole added an RBI on a groundout.
Great Bend scored two runs in each inning after the first, using a two-run single from Wyatt Bayless to complete the run-rule in the fifth inning. In the fourth inning, sophomore Bryce Beck provided the excitement, coming all the way around to score on an inside-the-park home run to the fence that scored two runs.
As on Saturday against Junction City, Marshall eventually settled in for the win, throwing two innings of shutout ball to end the game. He allowed four earned runs on five hits and struck out four.
With Crandall saving his arm for a key match-up against Pratt next week, Nickerson used four pitchers in game two. With just two seniors on the roster – Crandall and Engelland – The Panthers can use that experience later.
“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Nickerson coach Rich Krol. “We only have two seniors this year, and we really have some inexperienced kids.”
Crandall was the only Nickerson batter to have two hits, needing just two at-bats to get there. O’Toole had a single, drove in a run, and scored a run. He also pitched the final out of the fourth inning before Chase Timmons took over in the fifth.
Bowman finished with three singles and a walk, driving in two and scoring twice. Conaway walked twice and singled, scoring three runs, and Sell reached all four times on two walks and two errors, adding two runs.