by Alan Hoskins
Shutout pitching by Geoff Birkemeier and reliever Hunter Phillips carried Kansas City Kansas Community College to a doubleheader sweep of Labette Thursday.
Birkemeier threw a two-hit gem in shutting out the Cardinals 5-0 in the opener while Phillips retired the final 10 batters as the Blue Devils rallied for an 8-7 win in the nightcap.
The sweep vaulted the Blue Devils (23-17) into a fifth place Jayhawk Conference tie with Independence, both 14-12 with 10 games remaining starting with a return doubleheader against Labette in Parsons Saturday.
KCKCC’s final eight games will be played against Highland April 17-19 and Allen County April 24-26.
Trailing 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth of the second game, the Blue Devils put runners on second and third with one out on a hit batsman, a single by Daniel LaMunyon and, a sacrifice bunt by Eric Hinostroza.
An attempted squeeze play with Sam Baxter at the plate misfired but pinchrunner Alex Thrower escaped a rundown to score the tying run and the winning running scored moments later on Baxter’s ground ball to short.
The rally made a winner out of Phillips, who came on in the sixth inning with two on and one out, served up an inning-ending double play pitch and then set down the Cardinals in order the final three innings.
KCKCC took advantage of Labette miscues to build a 5-0 lead. Lucas Norton’s bunt single to lead off was the only hit in a two-run first inning while an error opened the door for a 3-run third that included the first of three singles by Zane Mapes, Norton’s second hit, a sacrifice fly by Tyler Raymond and an RBI single by Garrett McKinzie.
Preston Bailey got the mound start but had to be lifted in a four-run fourth with an arm injury.
Labette then went ahead 7-5 in the sixth, scoring three runs off Cole Frackes on an error, two singles and a walk before Phillips came on to slam the door on the Cardinals.
KCKCC closed back to 7-6 in the bottom of the sixth on Mapes’ two-out single following a single by Mitch Glessner and a walk.
Birkemeier retired the Cardinals in order in the five of seven innings and faced only three men over the minimum in the opener.
A two-out double in the third following an error and a two-out single in the seventh were the only hits off Birkemeier, who struck out three and walked none.
“I thought Geoff Birkemeier was throwing well enough to throw a no-hitter,” said KCKCC coach Steve Burleson. “He pitched impeccably. The second game we were a little bit luckier than good.”
The Blue Devils bunched all of their six hits in the first three innings in the 5-0 win.
Norton was hit to start the game, moved up on Raymond’s single and scored on a wild pitch in the first and Mapes and Norton rapped back-to-back triples following Eric Hinostroza’s single for a 3-0 lead in the second.
Bunt singles by LaMunyon and Mapes following an error, walk and Hinostroza’s sacrifice fly plated the final two runs in the third.