LIBERAL, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College baseball team had its offense come to life Friday out in Liberal, churning out 21 runs on 30 combined hits during its doubleheader against Seward County Community College.
A laundry list of positives made the eventual split against the Saints a little bitter sweet for the T-Birds, who rolled to a 16-5 win in Game One but lost a 6-5 heartbreaker in Game Two, spoiling a chance at the rare road sweep inside the KJCCC West.
"I think we missed a golden opportunity to sweep on the road in Seward and that's something that's very hard to do in this league," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland. "I'm really happy with the way we played and I think that's why there is a little bit of a sour taste because I thought we played well enough to sweep. Unfortunately, we let Game Two slip through our fingers."
Schmidt finished 3-for-4 with his second home run of the season and three RBI, while Dietel had a monster afternoon from the cleanup spot, going 4-for-4 with his first career home run and six runs driven in.
Dietel, who is 3-0 as a left-handed starter for the T-Birds so far this season, has made the most of his chances as a right-handed power bat this season. He entered the day with seven hits on the year and a .233 batting average, which has since skyrocketed to .333 after posting a 6-for-9 day on Friday that included two home runs and a total of seven runs driven in.
"Jackson has been hitting a lot of balls hard and I don't think his batting average was real indicative of how his at-bats had gone throughout the year," Gilliland said. "The one thing he did do today that he hadn't done was elevate the ball. For a guy who hits with so much power, he hits a lot of line drives and ground balls. Today he elevated the ball. He's a confident player and really trusts his abilities."
Dietel and Schmidt both homered in a six-run second inning for the T-Birds, who then backed that up with a seven-run third to take a commanding 14-3 lead over the Saints.
Seven different players recorded at least one hit in the Game One win, while freshman leadoff hitter Clayton Loranger (3-for-3, 4 runs, 2 RBI), freshman third baseman Davis Pratt (3-for-4, 2 runs) and freshman shortstop Connor Laux (3-for-3, 2 runs, 3 RBI) all joined Schmidt and Dietel with multi-hit performances.
"It's been kind of a tough spring so far with the cold, wind and playing on the road, but the guys have stuck with their approach and the swings all day (Friday) were fantastic," Gilliland said. "We got after a guy (Tanner King) in Game One who is one of the best pitchers in the league and there weren't too many cheap hits. I thought up and down the order we swung the bats very well."
On the mound, sophomore right-hander Austen Seidel picked up his second win of the season. The reigning KJCCC Division I Pitcher of the Week tossed four workmanlike innings, allowing runs, two earned on five hits while striking out seven.
As for Game Two, the T-Birds appeared to be well on their way to a sweep as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead following a pair of runs in the second — the first on Dietel's second long ball of the day — a run in the third and a run in the top of the fifth.
But it was the runs not scored and missed opportunities early that would come back to haunt Cloud County as Seward County rallied off the mat to pull even at 4-4 at the end of the sixth.
"The biggest thing that could have changed the game, in my opinion, was we had Seward County's starter on the ropes every single inning and never were able to get him out of the game early," Gilliland said "If we're able to get him out of the game early, especially after how Game One went, it probably changes the whole complexion of the game. That's what it came down to. We didn't chase their starter, we let him keep them in the game, and then when they went to their lefty (Ryan Thomas) he settled us down. They got the big inning offensively in the sixth and the momentum shifted."
Cloud County responded with a run in the top of the seventh when Pratt connect on a two-out, RBI single to score sophomore Kade Wallace, who reached via an error and hustled up to second to open the inning.
"Davis had good at-bats all day long and that was an excellent one left-on-left," Gilliland said. "That's what you want to see is your team answering back after Seward had tied the game the previous half-inning."
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, Seward County answered back with two runs of its own in the home-half of the eighth inning to vault back in front and hold on for the 6-5 final.
Loranger and Dietel each had two of Cloud County's 11 hits in Game Two, while Pratt finished 1-for-3 with a pair of RBI and Laux was 1-for-4 with an RBI double, making him 4-for-7 with four driven in out of the No. 9 spot in the order on the day.
Cloud County's Game Two starter Josh Laukkanen finished with a no-decision after throwing 5.2 innings, allowing four runs on 10 hits while striking out four.
The two teams, each hunting consecutive series wins to open KJCCC West action, will match up again on Sunday for the final two games of the series, set for 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. at the neutral site of McPherson College.
"Sunday will be huge. We really need to come in and play well," Gililand said. "We need to use it as a home game since Seward County has to travel and McPherson is a place we've played at before. We want to win the series and that's going to start coming out ready in Game Three."