CHANUTE— The opportunity was there. It just wasn’t to be.
The Barton Community College baseball team had a chance to pull off the upset in the opening game of Region VI play at Neosho County Saturday. But that chance slipped through their hands and, for all practical purposes, with it the end of the season.
Barton lost in the final at-bat in the first game of the best-of-3 series. The Panthers then swept the Cougars two straight Saturday to end Barton’s season.
Neosho won the opener 3-2 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the ninth then soundly defeated Barton 16-6 in the second game. The losses end Barton’s inaugural season under coach Brent Biggs with a 26-27 record. Neosho advances to the Region VI 8-team double elimination tournament with a 42-14 record.
“It was a roller coaster season and it continued into the playoffs,” coach Biggs said.
Jordan Plank was stellar on the mound in the opener. The sophomore left-hander from Wichita put goose eggs on the scoreboard for the first seven innings as Barton built a 1-0 lead. Barton took that lead in the top of the fourth as Seth Troll singled in Evan McDonald.
Plank worked into the eighth inning with Barton clinging to that 1-0 lead. The inning started with Plank’s seventh strikeout of the game and after a single – just his second hit allowed - he recorded his eighth strike out and looked to be on his way out of the inning.
But Plank issued his third walk at that point and, with his pitch count at 130, Biggs made the call to the team’s closer – Alex Evans.
But Evans couldn’t get Plank out of the inning. Levi Ashmore came through with a single to center to score Trevor Burkdoll and tie the game. Evans struck out the next batter and the teams went to the ninth tied at one.
McDonald started the inning off with a double and came in to score on a 1-out single by Grant Watkins and the Cougars had the lead again. The inning could have been bigger as Tyler Jennings followed with a single and Barton had runners on first and second with just one out. But Neosho’s Matt Slauter struck out the next two batters – his 11th and 12th of the game – to get out of the inning.
The bottom of the ninth started off good enough as Evans struck out the Panther’s clean-up hitter Jonah Bride. But a single and an error allowed Neosho to tie the game. After an intentional walk to set up a potential double play, Brady Childs ended the game with a single to score Blake Tomasino and give Neosho a 3-2 win.
“Jordan threw one of the best games all year and was able to keep the Neosho offense off the scoreboard,” Biggs said. “We had a one run lead in the 8th and again in the 9th with our sophomore closer on the mound but couldn’t keep them off the board.
“It was an emotional loss and I’m not sure we ever really recovered from game one. It was one of those situations that whoever won game one was more than likely going to win game two.”
The Cougars were never really in game two. Neosho took a 4-1 advantage after one inning and pushed it out to 7-1 after two. Barton showed some signs of life in the top of the third with a 3-run inning to cut the lead to 7-4.
But Neosho quickly responded with a 6-run inning of its own to take a 13-4 lead and take whatever wind was left in Barton’s sails away.
Neosho moves on to play Dodge City in the first round of the Region VI Championships. The Jayhawk East has five of the eight teams left. Dodge City, the No. 2 seed from the West, is joined from the West by top seed Seward and Butler.
For the Cougars it closes the books on Biggs first season at the helm.
“Overall it wasn’t the season that we were expecting but I’m proud of the way our guys competed all year,” the coach said. “We dealt with adversity throughout most of the season and were able to put ourselves in a position to make a run late in the season.”
“This group of sophomores have been successful both on and off the field in their two years here and will do nothing but great things in the future,” he said. “We have some talented freshmen returning and a good group of recruits signed for next year.”