by Alan Hoskins, KCKCC
Kansas City Kansas Community College will open Region VI baseball playoff action at home.
That was assured Friday when the Blue Devils (24-12) finished taking three out of four games from Johnson County, a series that knocked JCCC (26-10) out of the Jayhawk Conference championship as Cowley (26-8) moved past into first.
Against whom and when the Blue Devils will open playoff action is yet to be determined. Neosho County (22-12) and Labette (11-13) have two games remaining and should Neosho sweep, the Panthers would move past KCKCC into third place. If the Blue Devils finish fourth, they would host Garden City (18-14) Friday in the first game of a best-of-three series. If KCKCC finishes third, Cloud County (11-19) will likely be the opening round foe.
“Hopefully this break will give (shortstop) Albert Woodard a chance to get over a leg injury and give the guys some rest,” KCKCC coach Matt Goldbeck said. Woodard, who is hitting .368 in the leadoff spot, played in only the opener of the four-game JCCC series.
The Blue Devils trailed only briefly in sweeping Johnson County 10-4 and 8-4 on Thursday to assure a playoff berth. With threatening weather Saturday, the final two games of the series at JCCC were wisely moved up to Friday, the Cavaliers taking a 4-3 8-inning win in the opener before KCKCC won the nightcap 4-2.
Back-to-back home runs by Josh Schumacher and Woodard and three runs-batted-in apiece helped KCKCC surge to an 8-0 lead against JCCC in Thursday’s 10-4 opening win. The Blue Devils pounded out 14 hits including three by Woodard and two each by Alex Phillips, Easton Fortuna, Brandon Green and Drew Holtgrieve.
Jake Purl took it from there, striking out eight and walking none for his seventh win of the season. Three of JCCC’s late-inning runs came on home runs from Jake Karst and Troy Darling.
After taking a 1-0 lead without a hit in the first inning, Schumacher hit a 2-run home run to center and Woodard followed with a round-tripper to left-center for a 4-0 lead in the second.
The Blue Devils then put the game out of reach with a 4-run third. After an error, walk and Rorey Combs’ single loaded the bases, Schumacher scored one run with a ground ball, Woodard doubled in two more and Tyler Pittman tripled in the fourth. KCKCC’s final two runs came on RBI singles by Fortuna in the fourth and fifth innings.
Two-run rallies in the seventh and eighth innings sealed the 8-4 win in the second game. Leading 4-3 in the seventh, singles by Pittman and Green, a Chase Redick sacrifice fly and an error made it 6-3 and a 2-run triple by Phillips following singles by Holtgrieve and Schumacher in the eighth closed out the scoring.
JCCC took its only lead 1-0 in the second but the Blue Devils quickly went ahead 2-1in the bottom of the inning on a single by Fortuna, a double by Holtgrieve and a single by Schumacher and then made it 4-1 in the third on an error and consecutive singles by Green, Fortuna and Combs.
Chad Cox (4-3) got the win, scattering 10 hits, striking out five and walking four before Julian Rivera got the last four outs. Schumacher‘s three hits and two each by Green and Fortuna paced a 13-hit KCKCC attack.
JCCC’s lone win came in Friday’s opener on a walk-off home run by Brandt Ollinger in the bottom of the eighth after Shea Stephens had blanked the Cavaliers for 6 1/3 innings. The first three JCCC runs were scored in the first, two of which were unearned after a passed ball on a third strike. Until the walk-off homer, Stephens allowed only three hits and four base-runners after the first.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, could not make the most of their scoring opportunities, leaving runners on second or third in five of the eight innings including the sixth, seventh and eighth frames. KCKCC took a 1-0 lead in the first on a walk, Phillips’ single and Redick’s RBI ground ball; scored a second run in the third on singles by Combs, Pittman and a double by Redick; and the third in the fourth on a triple by Fortuna and ground ball by Schumacher.
However, the Blue Devils rebounded in the second game behind the combined one-hit pitching of Corey Cowan and Julian Rivera. Cowan (5-0) had a no-hitter going into the fifth only to walk three before the Cavaliers’ lone hit, a single by Maurice Bruce. After Cowan’s fourth walk of the inning, Rivera ended the 2-run scoring outburst with a strikeout and then closed out the win despite hitting two batters for his sixth save of the season.
Alex Phillips provided all the runs the Blue Devils would need in the first inning, blasting his 10th home run of the season, a 3-run shot following a walk and a Pittman single to start the game. Redick followed with a single and eventually scored on Fortuna’s squeeze bunt. The Blue Devils managed only three hits the rest of the way including a double by Fortuna and Redick’s second hit.