Cloud County Baseball Falls to #15 KCK, Faces Elimination Game on Thursday

Cloud County Fell 3-1 to Kansas City Kansas Community College in the NJCAA Plains District Tournament on Wednesday, May 15th
Cloud County Fell 3-1 to Kansas City Kansas Community College in the NJCAA Plains District Tournament on Wednesday, May 15th

A late rally that featured the game-tying run on base with one out in the bottom of the ninth, the Cloud County Community College baseball team could not find a much-needed clutch hit when it mattered most to drop their opening game of the 2024 NJCAA Plains District Baseball Tournament to number-15 nationally-ranked Kansas City Kansas Community College by a score of 3-1 at Eck Stadium on the campus of Wichita State University on Wednesday, May 15th.

Facing KCKCC in the postseason for the fourth-straight season, Cloud County drops their opening game in Wichita by an identical score as last year's loss to Cowley to fall to 40-20 overall while the Blue Devils improve to 47-10 overall and advances to the winner's bracket 7 PM game tomorrow evening against top-ranked and number one overall seed Johnson County Community College.

With the top two pitchers in earned run average squaring off on the mound, a pitcher's duel was expected going into the contest and lived up to the hype with both starters getting into the eighth inning and throwing over 100 total pitches each. The lone hit of the first inning came in the form of a one-out single for KCKCC before seeing the Blue Devils strike in the second for a run with a lead-off ground-rule double coming around to score on an infield single to third base in what proved to be the only run scored in the first three innings of play. After drawing their first base runner of the game with a two-out walk in the bottom of the second, Cloud County got their first hit of the game in the bottom of the third with a leadoff single from Cam MaCleod that was erased one batter later on a double play with Kansas City Kansas starting pitcher MacLane Finley facing the minimum through three innings.

Another leadoff double for KCCC in the top of the fourth led to a run for the Blue Devils to make the score 2-0 with Cloud County managing to strand another runner at third before putting together a promising-looking rally in the bottom of the inning. A ground-rule double from Demitri Shakotko into the left field corner with one out saw the Fredericton, New Brunswick native move to third on a wild pitch followed by a walk drawn by Jakob Poturnak to put the game-tying run on base. Unfortunately for CCCC, a one-hopper right back to the pitcher off the bat of Nolan Freund set up an inning-ending 1-4-3 double play as the Blue Devils turned their second double play of the game to keep the T-Birds off the scoreboard going to the fifth.

Quick one-two-three innings from both starting pitchers in the fifth sent things to the sixth where KCKCC stranded a runner followed by Cloud County being unable to do anything with a leadoff single from Gavin Roy and Austin Coyle one-out walk to strand both runners with missed opportunities on the offensive end starting to mount up. Keeping the Blue Devils from adding to their lead in the seventh, another stranded base runner for CCCC in the bottom of the inning saw a one-out Noah Konings hit-by-pitch go to waste to keep the score at 2-0. Running into trouble in the top of the eighth with a walk, sacrifice bunt, and intentional walk ending the day of redshirt sophomore Kevin Mannell, Cloud County turned to John Klus out of the bullpen to induce a fielder's choice and inning-ending strikeout following a walk to load the bases as the Blue Devils left the bases loaded after having a chance to add to their lead.

The strikeout appeared to give the T-Bird offense some momentum as a leadoff single from Gavin Roy was followed by a one-out single from Coyle, but another inning-ending double play allowed KCKCC to get out of the inning with a base-running mistake costing CCCC dearly. With the momentum flipped right back into the first-base dugout and to Kansas City Kansas, the Blue Devils made the most of the opportunity by putting their first two base runners aboard followed by a stolen base and two-out RBI single to add an insurance run which forced another T-Bird pitching change. The damage was limited to just one run as Ethan Price came on to induce an inning-ending strikeout with KCKCC stranding another two runners to end the inning.

Needing at least three runs to extend the game into extra-innings, Cloud County did not go down without a fight as Poturnak hit a leadoff single and moved to second on an error followed by a pinch-hit single for Paul Schuyler to put runners on the corners with no outs. Following a move for a pinch-runner, Konings brought home the first run of the game for CCCC with an RBI groundout. Drawing a walk was designated hitter TJ Coats to put the game-tying run on base followed by a flyout from Cam MaCleod with Roy unable to flip the lineup back over to the top by having the game end on a strikeout.

Hitting into three double plays, Cloud County stranded eight base runners and had just one player finish with multiple hits as Roy went two-for-four in the nine-hole. The lone extra-base hit of the game for CCCC came off the bat of Shakotko while seeing two of the eight Kansas City Kansas hits go for extra bases. On the mound, Mannell dropped to 7-4 overall despite striking out five in 7.1 innings of work and allowing just two runs on six hits while Klus and Price combined to strike out three in the final 1.2 innings of play. Finley worked into the ninth for the Blue Devils and tossed eight innings, giving up one run and striking out six to improve to 12-2 overall.

What's Next?
With their season on the line, Cloud County will look to settle the season series with Butler Community College in a 1 PM elimination game at Eck Stadium on Thursday, May 16th. The Grizzlies dropped a 9-3 decision to Johnson County on Wednesday afternoon after winning their first two games of the postseason last week over Neosho. This season's series between CCCC and BCC came in the final week of the regular season with both teams sweeping a doubleheader on their home field to split the four-game series 2-2. The final two games of the series came in Concordia, with Cloud County winning 14-3 in six innings and 9-5 on May 4th.