by Alan Hoskins
Kansas City Kansas Community College is headed for the NJCAA super-regional baseball tournament opening in Lawrence-Dumont Stadium in Wichita Friday.
An 8-2 winner in the third and final game of a best-of-three regional series at Colby Sunday, the Blue Devils (36-20) will play the opener of the 8-team super-regional against 15th ranked and No. 1 seeded Johnson County (44-11) at 10 a.m. Friday. A double elimination tournament, games between first round winners and losers will be played starting Saturday.
“We wanted a chance at either Johnson or Neosho because we hadn’t got everything straightened out when we played earlier,” said KCKCC Coach Steve Burleson. Swept in four-game series by both Neosho and JCCC in mid-March, the Blue Devils rebounded to win 21 of their final 24 Jayhawk Conference games.
Geoff Birkemeier got the Blue Devils in front in the regional with a nifty 5-hitter in a 5-3 opening game win Friday only to have Colby take the second game 12-2 and force Sunday’s showdown finale.
Sophomore catcher Garrett McKinzie delivered the game’s biggest blow in the final game, a two-out, three-run home run that put KCKCC ahead to stay 4-1 in the fifth inning. “The home run was huge,” said Burleson. “It gave us the separation we were needing to allow us to survive a mistake in the field or on the mound.”
Scattering four hits including a second inning home run, E.J. Merlo took a 5-1 lead into the sixth only to load the bases on a walk, hit and hit batsman with one out. Derek Watkins came on and after getting one out, wild pitched a run home but slammed the door the rest of the way, allowing just one hit and walking two the final three innings. He was helped in the seventh when shortstop Zane Mapes’ throw to third baseman Daniel LaMunyon cut down a potential leadoff triple on a ball hit to leftfielder Alex Thrower. “That was a difference maker and very uncharacteristic of Colby’s team making the first out of an inning at third base,” said Burleson.
Mapes paced a 14-hit KCKCC attach with three singles while Luke Norton doubled and singled and Tanner Thibodeau, Christian Arnold and Tanner Foerschler singled twice.
Norton doubled and scored on a McGarrett’s ground ball for a1-0 lead in the first while hits by Mapes and Thibodeau set the stage for McGarrett’s 3-run homer in the fifth. A wild pitch after a hit batsman and a Norton single made it 5-1 in the sixth and the Blue Devils put the game out of reach in the ninth, scoring three times on hits by Foerschler, Mapes and Thibodeau and McGarrett’s sacrifice fly, his fifth RBI of the game.
Birchmeier allowed only one hit over the first six innings before Colby bunched its final four hits for a pair of runs in the seventh of KCKCC’s 5-3 opening win. The Blue Devils jumped in front 3-0 in the second, scoring twice on a double by LaMunyon, triple by Thibodeau and single by Thrower and then added a third run on a bunt single by Mapes and Norton’s squeeze bunt. Two-out run-scoring singles by Norton in the fourth and Mapes in the sixth scored the final two runs.
Pounding out 16 hits, Colby never trailed in the 12-2 win, scoring twice in both the first and third innings and six times in the eighth. LaMunyon doubled and singled, Arnold singled twice and Sam Baxter doubled for KCKCC.