DODGE CITY, Kansas — The 3 ½ hour road trip to face Dodge City Community College has been a difficult one for the Cloud County Community College men's basketball team in recent years.
"We've beaten Dodge before, but to be honest with you I don't know if we're ever beat them in Dodge City while I've been (head coach)," said Chad Eshbaugh, now in his seventh season at the helm as Cloud County's head coach. "No. 1 reason why it's been a tough place is because they have a good team. That usually makes it tricky, and it's tough to win on the road in the Jayhawk Conference."
Available archives make it unclear when the last time the T-Birds' were in fact victorious as the visitors in Dodge City. It hasn't happened since at least the 2011-12 season, according to KJCCC and NJCAA records. What is clear following Saturday night's 81-75 road win over the Conquistadors, though, is that Cloud County is off to an ideal start in Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference play.
"The conference season is going to be a marathon not a sprint, but we sure got off to a good first step," Eshbaugh said. "I thought the guys really competed well, came ready to play, and I thought we dictated action in the first half pretty well."
Cloud County (5-0 overall, 1-0 KJCCC) jumped out to a 40-30 lead at the half, led by sophomore guards Deon Lyle and Andrew Ballock. Lyle scored 10 of his 17 points during the first 20 minutes, while Ballock poured in 16 of high game-high 24 points in the opening half, as well.
Ballock finished one rebound shy of a double-double and had a team-high five steals on Saturday, as well.
"He was off the charts (Saturday). He was great," said Eshbaugh, referring to Ballock. "The thing is, I don't know if everyone appreciates it, tonight he made a bunch of shots, but he's played great every night. The points stand out tonight, but he makes winning basketball plays, diving on the floor for a loose ball or communicating on offense and defense."
Dodge City (3-1 overall, 0-1 KJCCC) would storm back in the second half, opening on a 13-0 run during the first five minutes to take the lead, 43-40. The Conquistadors built their lead to as many as seven points at 53-46 with 12:01 remaining in the game.
The duo of Lyle and Ballock helped the T-Birds get back on track as Lyle scored seven straight points, and Ballock nailed a 3-pointer with 8:01 remaining to cap a 15-7 run that gave Cloud County the lead back at 61-60.
Sophomore point guard Aamahne Santos, the third Cloud County player in double-figures with 13 points, closed out the game as he scored all nine of his second-half points during the final seven minutes of action.
"We struggled in the second half, Dodge City made plays, but I'm proud of how we were able to overcome the adversity," Eshbaugh said.
Cloud County will look to extend its unbeaten streak when it returns home Wednesday to host No. 6 Hutchinson Community College. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 p.m.
"I sure hope we have a great crowd Wednesday. Hutchinson is our rival and we've had a lot of great battles with those guys over the years," Eshbaugh said. "We know they're going to be talented. They're going to be well coached. We have to prepare ourselves for a big-time test."