Nickerson High was one pitch away from defeating Pratt High with the Central Kansas League baseball title on the line.
But relief pitcher Skylar Dean worked out of a bases-loaded situation and left the winning runner stranded at third base. Dean retired Jake Stiverson and Bryon Young on back-to-back groundouts to shortstop B.J. Dean. Skylar Dean threw two clutch strikes after a 3-1 count on Young.
Pratt received a huge break when baserunner Ryan O’Toole didn’t break off second base on what appeared to be a game-winning eighth-inning base hit to right field by Justin Engelland. Quintin Crandall singled and sprinted home on a hit-and-run base hit by O’Toole for a 5-5 tie off starter Jared Gilmore when the ball was bobbled in left field.
Gilmore’s single scored Brett Forshee for a 5-4 lead off Nickerson reliever Justin Engelland in the eighth inning.
The Greenbacks’ Shane McEachern scored the game-winning run on a passed ball with two out for a 6-5 victory in 10 innings. McEachern singled and moved to third base after Will Fellhoelter’s sacrifice bunt and a groundout. Skylar Dean retired eight of the nine batters he faced to end the 3 ½-hour affair.
“Skylar did a good job and we know we’re going to use him in post-season,” said Pratt coach Pat Stivers. “ He’s probably going to be first one in out of the bullpen in post-season.”
Pratt (13-1, 13-1 CKL) captured its second consecutive league championship by winning the opener. Pratt completed the sweep with a 16-5 victory in the nightcap. Nickerson (10-8, 9-5 CKL) would’ve forced a tie for the title with a doubleheader sweep Thursday night.
The sweep moves Pratt into position to secure the top seed in the Class 4A Hoisington baseball regional May 14 and 16. Pratt qualified for the Class 4A state baseball tournament last year.
The Greenbacks started slowly offensively in both games, but gained momentum in both games.
“We’ve played in a lot of close games. At least one game is always a one-run game,” Stivers said. “We always think we can come back in the end. We’d like to get our offense going earlier. Nickerson is a tough place to play. We have a lot of respect for Nickerson coach Rich Krol.”
Engelland (1-3) was a hard-luck loser after untimely errors raised the pitch count of starting pitcher Crandall.
Dakota Venard’s single scored B.J. Dean for a 1-0 lead. But Nickerson scored three first-inning runs off lefthander Gilmore. Crandall doubled home Sean Rodriguez after a leadoff single. Engelland’s double scored Crandall and Conor Gomes.
Back-to-back third-inning errors enabled Skylar Dean and Gilmore to score after Easton Herring and Drake Evert delivered singles. The teams traded unearned runs for a 4-4 tie through four innings. Rodriguez reached on an error and scored on O’Toole’s groundout. Skylar Dean scored Pratt’s fourth-inning run.
B.J. Dean (5-0) struck out 11 Nickerson batters to control the nightcap.
Nickerson starter Rodriguez and reliever Jake Stiverson battled Pratt to a 2-2 tie through five innings. Pratt broke the game open with a 10-run fifth inning on just four hits. The first nine batters in the inning all scored. There were seven walks and runs scored on two wild pitches and a balk for a 12-2 lead.
Pratt scored four more runs in the seventh inning on five walks and a pair of errors. Nickerson’s Crandall had two triples and two runs scored. Engelland delivered a two-run single.
Pratt finishes with Larned Friday, Russell May 8 and Medicine Lodge May 10. Nickerson travels to Larned May 8.