MCPHERSON, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College baseball team swept its Saint Patrick's Day doubleheader against Seward County Community College on Sunday, earning victories by the final scores of 11-8 and 6-4 to win the series, 3-1, and move into a share of first place in the KJCCC West standings.
Cloud County (13-6 overall, 6-2 KJCCC), playing as the home team at the McPherson College neutral site on Sunday, is now tied atop the standings with Butler Community College. The T-Birds have won five of their last six games and back-to-back series against the Saints (11-11 overall, 4-4 KJCCC) dating back to last season.
"Seward County is a good team so to take a series from them, you obviously have to be doing things right," said Cloud County head coach, Eric Gilliland. "We really valued 90 feet, played pretty well defensively for the most part and had a real solid weekend."
The T-Birds began Sunday with a thrilling 11-8 victory that saw the team give up a 7-1 lead through the game's three innings, but surge ahead on a 3-run, go-ahead home run by sophomore Grant Schmidt in the bottom of the sixth.
Schmidt, who finished 2-for-3 in Game Three, leaned on a spinning breaking ball and deposited it over the left-center field fence for his third home run of the season and second of the series to break up what was an 8-8 tie at the time.
"I've talked before that I thought Grant had some tough luck to start the year and it seems to be evening out for him a little bit now," Gilliland said. "We were having a hard time stopping Seward County at that point in time, so that was a big-time spot for Grant to come through and give us three insurance runs."
Cloud County freshman left-hander Trey Asher was then able to nail down the seventh inning to earn his first college win with two scoreless innings of relief.
Freshman shortstop Connor Laux and fellow freshman Alex Rice were two more standouts in Game Three as Laux showed off some power, belting his first career home run to left in the fifth inning. He'd finished 2-for-2 with a walk and 2 RBI in Sunday's opener, while Rice was 2-for-3 with two RBI out of the No. 9 spot in the order.
Sophomore designated hitter Jackson Dietel (2-for-3, 2 runs) was the fourth T-Bird to record a multi-hit game, making him a staggering 8-for-12 with five runs scored and seven RBI in the series.
As well as Dietel swung the bat in the series, it was his start in Game Four that proved the most valuable as the left-hander moved to a perfect 4-0 in his four starts this season in Cloud County's 6-4 win in Sunday's finale.
Dietel worked eight innings — he's thrown at least seven innings in all four starts this year — and limited the Saints to four runs on nine hits while striking out seven.
The crafty southpaw dominated the Seward County lineup through the game's first six innings, allowing Cloud County to build a 6-0 lead, before the Saints were able to push across three runs in the sixth and a run in the seventh to tighten things up.
"He was excellent through the first six innings," Gilliland said of Dietel. "Seward County made some adjustments that third time through the order and did a nice job against him. But the difference between this year and last year was he'd implode at times. But this year he is much better at minimizing and getting himself out of jams."
The Cloud County offense played an opportunistic brand of baseball in Game Four, scoring its first two runs courtesy of wild pitches in the third inning.
Cloud County then broke through with four runs in the fourth inning via an RBI single by freshman outfielder Clayton Loranger, a two-run single by Ramon Vingochea and sac fly off the bat of sophomore first baseman Kade Wallace.
Loranger, who finished 3-for-5 hitting leadoff, also had two of Cloud County's three steals in the ballgame.
Vingochea added to the 1-2 punch spot atop the batting order as he finished 4-for-5 with two runs scored, two RBI and a stolen base, raising his average to .322.
"'Vingo' just keeps doing the same things he's been doing since he got here. He has such an awesome approach," Gilliland said. "He puts the ball in play a lot and barrels a lot of baseballs."
Sophomore designated hitter Blake Manuel also provided an offensive spark in Game Four, finishing 2-for-4 with a double and run scored.
In the ninth, the T-Birds turned to freshman Joseph Karall to close the door and the hard-throwing righty delivered as he worked a clean inning to earn his first career save.
"Seward County is a team that can handle velocity. They showed that the first couple of games against some of our starters and bullpen," Gilliland said. "But Dietel had done a nice job slowing their bats down so it was time to come back to some velocity with Joe."
The T-Birds won't have long to celebrate their series win as they get back on the bus Monday to play a road doubleheader against Kansas Wesleyan JV starting at 4 p.m. before resuming KJCCC West action at home Thursday against Colby Community College.