May 14, 2022

Cloud County baseball extends season with win over Neosho

Posted May 14, 2022 2:39 AM
<b>Danny Infante hit his third home run of the series on Friday, finishing the three-game set with a .429 batting average and seven RBIs.</b> Photo by Jessica LeDuc courtesy <a href=""></a>
Danny Infante hit his third home run of the series on Friday, finishing the three-game set with a .429 batting average and seven RBIs. Photo by Jessica LeDuc courtesy

CONCORDIA - The emotional roller coaster that has been part of the 2022 Cloud County Community College baseball postseason the past 72 hours has been extended for at least two more games after the T-Birds would go up 13-5 before hanging on to defeat Neosho County Community College by a final score of 15-12 in a deciding game three of the 2022 NJCAA Region VI Tournament at Lee Doyen Field on Friday.

Earning win number 41 on the year, Cloud County now sits at 41-16 heading into Tuesday's NJCAA Plains District Tournament opening game against Kansas City Kansas Community College while the Panthers have their season end to finish with a 25-33 mark.

"I'm proud of our guys for finding a way to get things done with their season on the line" said head coach Eric Gilliland in a post-game interview. "Neosho played great baseball the first two days and we were fortunate to find a way to get to day three and ultimately advance." "Now we need to keep the momentum alive into next week in Manhattan." "Anything can happen in playoff baseball."

Given new life on Thursday afternoon following the improbable walk-off grand slam by freshman Danny Infante to force game three, momentum would clearly be on the side of CCCC early in the contest on Friday. Rolling Joel Benes back out onto the mound after having the Firth, Nebraska native throw two innings in relief on Thursday, Cloud County would work around a two-out single by ending the inning with a strikeout to hold NCCC scoreless in the first inning for the first time all series. Having played from behind in each of the previous two contests, the T-Birds would ensure that a deficit would not be necessary as a fielding error would allow a leadoff base runner before a strikeout and stolen base put Adler Pierson in scoring position with Infante at the plate.

Once again falling behind in the count, the Brooklyn, New York native managed to work his way to a full count before making lightning strike twice by sending a two-run homer over the left-field fence for his third home run of the series and second in as many at-bats to give CCCC an early lead. Next up for Cloud County would be redshirt freshman Brock Wollin who would not wait long before getting a pitch he could also turn on and deposit onto 7th street running behind the left-field fence as back-to-back home runs would give the T-Birds a 3-0 lead with just one out in the inning. Continuing the offensive spark, Kolden Howerton would draw a walk before seeing Tom Poole get hit by a pitch and Garrett Redden hit a base-hit single to load the bases. Neosho would get a key second out on an infield popup in foul territory but be unable to escape without more damage as nine-hole hitter Ty Wevers would bring in a pair of unearned runs with a two-RBI single back up the middle. Pierson would then hit a double down the left-field line that would be initially bobbled by the Panther left fielder before seeing NCCC recover and throw a dart on a relay throw to cut down Wevers at the plate trying to score from first to end the inning after Redden had scored to make it 6-0 CCCC.

Following the six-run first for Cloud County, the pendulum would briefly swing back in favor of Neosho County in the top of the second as a fielding error and walk would put two runners on with no outs for the Panthers. A slow-rolling ball put in play on the infield would not allow CCCC to have a play in the next at-bat leading to a bases-loaded situation before a fielder's choice and error on the relay throw for a potential double-play would bring home two runs with the ball ending up out of play. A wild pitch would then allow the lone NCCC runner on base to move from second to third as a sacrifice bunt would bring home the second unearned run of the inning and third total to allow Neosho to cut the Cloud County lead in half.

The wildness of the opening stages of the game would continue in the bottom of the second as another fielding error by Neosho would put a leadoff base runner on and be followed by a second hit batter for the T-Birds. After a strikeout would put the Panthers a ground ball away from getting out of the inning unscathed, NCCC would see the opportunity they needed come to fruition but be unable to execute as a dropped throw on the initial play at second base would see both baserunners advance while allowing another baserunner to load the bases. With Poole up to bat, the Calgary, Alberta, Canada native would deliver again with a two-RBI double over the head of the Neosho first baseman as the T-Birds would get greedy and see Howerton cut down at home trying to score from first. The out would prove crucial as a fly out in the next at-bat caused the out at home to take away another potential run on a sacrifice fly as the inning would end with just the two runs for Cloud County.

In case the 11 runs scored between teams in the first two innings were not enough, NCCC would once again find a way to put together some offense as four straight one-out singles would bring home a pair of runs and put runners at first and second. Facing the bottom third of the lineup, Benes would induce a foul out to Howerton at first and then get a strikeout by the hottest Neosho hitter in the series in Luke Pringle to strand both runners and keep the CCCC lead at three.

The scoring would not end there as the bottom of the third would bring together another wild and crooked number from Cloud County as a leadoff single from Williams Camacho-Soto would be one of five hits in the inning as Ian Riley would hit a two-RBI double before seeing a Wollin RBI single and Howerton double that Wollin would come home on force a second pitching change from Neosho with just one out in the inning. One more run would come home on a Redden RBI single as five more runs would come home for the T-Birds with the score now at 13-5 in favor of CCCC and the game seemingly in control for the home team.

Having done the job asked of him by getting through the first three innings of the contest, Benes would exit and turn things over to reliever Aaron Hayes who would allow a leadoff walk to come around and score on a one-out RBI single. The Weatherford, Texas native would limit the damage to just the one run however in the inning as a fielder's choice and line out would end the inning and keep the T-Birds out in front by a seven-run margin. CCCC would then be held scoreless for the first time in the game in the bottom of the fourth before seeing their lead once again cut into as two errors would prove costly and allow for a four-run inning for the Panthers to commence.

A once eight-run lead now down to three, Cloud County would appear to have a one-out rally started in the bottom of the fifth as back-to-back singles from Howerton and Poole put two runners on, but a strikeout and fly out that reached the left-center field warning track kept the T-Birds off the scoreboard once more. Needing to get a scoreless inning on the defensive side to try and calm the momentum shift that was trending in the direction of NCCC, CCCC reliever Brady Stuewe who would enter in the top of the fifth would issue a leadoff single before seeing a strikeout and two wild pitches move the runner from first to third. After another strikeout put a second-out on the board, Neosho would keep the inning alive with an RBI base hit to second base on another slow roller that Infante would have no play on to make the score 13-11. The next batter for the Panthers would have the inning end however as Stuewe would induce a one-hopper right back to him at the mound before making the short-throw over to first to get out of the inning with a two-run lead still intact.

After scoring 13 runs in the first three innings, Cloud County would once again be held scoreless in the bottom of the sixth as two more stranded base runners would see momentum building even more with NCCC. With noise starting to be made by the Panther dugout, Neosho would turn a leadoff single into a run on a two-out RBI single before seeing the inning end on the same play as the late relay throw to home plate would be snap-threw back to second base to throw out Alex Urlaub attempting to advance on the throw.

Holding the slimmest of margins after being in total control early on, the T-Birds would finally find a way to turn momentum back in their favor as a four-pitch walk would be issued to Howerton to lead off the inning before getting a Poole double down the right-field line to put runners at second and third. Following a strikeout by Redden to keep the runners where they were at, Camacho-Soto would make the most of his first start in the series by hitting a two-RBI single into center field to allow both Howerton and Poole to score a pair of massive insurance runs for reliever Rans Sanders to work with. The inning for CCCC would end just two batters later however as a fielder's choice and fly out would end the inning with just the two runs scored before heading into the eighth.

Shaking off the one run given up in the seventh, Sanders would come back with his best work of the series by getting a fly out, strikeout, and infield popup to retire the Panthers in order for the first time in the game as the three-run lead would be safe for at least one more inning. A final opportunity for Cloud County to add to their lead before heading to the ninth would see a base-hit single and error put Riley on second to lead off the inning before a line out and walk would put two runners on. Following another flyout, NCCC would make a call to the bullpen to try and get a right-handed pitcher in to face the right-hand hitting Poole who would wind up being hit by a pitch to load the bases. Needing just a base-hit to score at least two runs, the bases would be left loaded as a strikeout would end the inning and force the T-Birds to work with just a three-run margin while needing three outs to advance.
Picking up where he left off, Sanders would retire each of the first two batters in the inning to put NCCC down to their final out as a pinch-hitter would be called upon in the situation. Drawing a two-out walk, the Neosho season would last all of one more batter as an infield popup to Thursday's T-Bird hero Infante would put a fitting end to a series that was anything but typical.

Twelve stranded runners and eight strikeouts would lead to a lot of missed chances for CCCC despite the 15-run effort that would come on 18 total hits. Seven of the nine Cloud County hitters in the lineup would record multiple hits, with Riley and Poole both leading the way with three hits each while six different players would drive in two runs apiece. Of the 18 hits recorded by the T-Birds, seven would go for extra-bases which included a game-high two from Poole.

Remaining perfect on the mound would be Benes to move to 5-0 after allowing five runs (three earned) after getting 13 runs of support during his time on the mound for CCCC. The remaining three pitchers for Cloud County (Hayes, Stuewe, and Sanders) would account for six of the eight total strikeouts by the T-Birds as Sanders would pick up his sixth save of the year and 12th of his career to tie the career record at CCCC set by Tommy Smoot in 2003-04.

What's next?
Advancing as the number six seed into the 2022 NJCAA Plains District Tournament, the T-Birds will square off with third-seeded Kansas City Kansas Community College for the second time in a two-week span to open the tournament at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. Seven of the eight schools which hosted NJCAA Region VI Tournament best-of-three series have advanced to Manhattan with the lone upset coming in the Fort Scott/Hutchinson series with the 10th-seeded Blue Dragons sweeping the seventh-seeded Greyhounds. In the lone matchup to take place earlier this year between the T-Birds and Blue Devils, Cloud County jumped out to a 5-0 lead before going on to win by a score of 6-3. The matchup will mark the second-straight year that CCCC and KCKCC have met in the postseason with Kansas City Kansas winning by a score of 16-9 in the 2021 NJCAA Region VI Sub-Regional round hosted by Seward County last May.