BY JIM MISUNAS
Great Bend Bat Cat Brayden Smith wrote a perfect script to ride his baseball career into the sunset.
The lefthander Smith recorded the final seven outs to complete the Bat Cats' 6-1 victory over the Sunflower Seeds. The Bat Cats (4-0) won Friday's Sunflower Collegiate League opener 8-5 before several hundred fans.
Friday's doubleheader paid tribute to Smith's grandfather Dale Klima, who died June 12, 2020. Klima was a U.S. Army veteran who was a lifetime supporter of Smith's baseball career.
BAT CATS 6, SEEDS 1 (G2) – Bat Cats coach Roger Ward granted Smith's wish to pitch one final time before he departs for his job in Tulsa, Okla.
Smith finished his career in style with a strikeout of Roger Viloria before getting mobbed by teammates.
"It was awesome," Smith said. "It was good to see everyone appreciate the moment. I told my teammates to not take anything for granted."
To celebrate the occasion, the Bat Cats fired off fireworks following the ballgame. Klima's extended family provided free beer during Friday's twin bill, which made all the adults happy.
Frankie Yankovic's classic polka song said it best –
"In Heaven there is no beer
"That's why we drink it here
"And when we're gone from here
"All our friends will be drinking all that beer."
Smith appreciates what coach Ward has delivered for Great Bend baseball.
"Roger Ward has brought great baseball back to Great Bend," he said.
Starter Jake Kuntzendorf (1-0) earned the victory as the Bat Cats scored in five innings. Bat Cats sparkplug Alex Rodgers scored on Zane Spinn's first-inning bunt single. Kody Bigford scored a second-inning run. Kane McGee singled home Andrew Enwiya in the third frame.
Rodgers sparked a two-run fourth inning with the Bat Cats' first homer. Enwiya singled home Spinn for a 5-1 lead. Enwiya doubled home Junior Torres in the sixth inning. It would've been a bigger rally, but Spinn was called out for passing Torres on the bases on a potential double that Owen Sheldon nearly caught.
BAT CATS 8, SEEDS 5 (G1) – Bat Cats centerfielder Rodgers was a one-man highlight show with three hits, two runs scored and an RBI. Rodgers reached base six times in the twin bill and scored four runs.
"I hunt for fastballs and get something to drive," Rodgers said. "It's all about finding a way to get to first base."
The Bat Cats' defensive wizard delivered a vintage play when he threw out Owen Shelton attempting to race from first to third base on Austin Bonell's fourth-inning single.
"You've got to be prepared. You mentally prepare for that runner before it happens," Rodgers said. "If he runs, you've got an opportunity to do something cool."
Seeds coach Toby Munz twice held runners at third base when the ball was hit to centerfielder Rodgers.
"It's fine when they don't run because they aren't going for the extra base," Rodgers said.
Bat Cats catcher Jett Forrest threw out Ryusei Hando on an attempted steal. Shortstop J.D. Ortiz and second baseman Brett Freiberg converted a 5-4-3 double play on Hando's sixth-inning groundball.
Rodgers scored the first run on a wild pitch. Forrest and Rodgers drove home runs and Ortiz singled home Freiberg and Rodgers in a four-run second inning. Kyles Gates singled home Spinn in the third inning. Spinn scored on a wild pitch and Junior Torres earned an RBI in a two-run fifth inning.
Seeds Dawson Winter and Bryan Cusick drove home runs and Kavy Kuhn scored on a third-inning wild pitch. The Seeds rallied with four seventh-inning singles and RBIs by Dawson Winter and Kauy Kuhn off reliever Diego Escobedo, who retired Hunter Igo to clinch the opener.
Seeds 111 000 2 – 5 10 2
Bat Cats 141 020 x – 8 7 1
Blakesley, Murphy (5), Kujawa (6) and Viloria. Blomquist, Thomas (3), Escobedo (6) and Forrest. W–Thomas, 1-0. L–Blakesley, 0-1. 2B–SS–Winter
Seeds 001 000 0 – 1 8 1
Bat Cats 111 201 x – 6 9 3
Benefiel, Alderson (3), Cannan (6) and Viloria. Kuntzendorf, Smith (5) and Torres. W–Kutzendorf, 1-0. L–Benefiel 0-1. SV–Smith. 2B–GB–Enwiya. HR–GB–Rodgers
Great Bend Bat Cats 5-0
Derby Twins 5-0
Cheney D Dawgs 4-1
Wichita Sluggers 3-2
Hutchinson Monarchs 0-0
Haysville Aviators 2-3
Andale Warhawks 1-4
Newton Rebels 0-4
Sunflower Seeds 0-5
6-13–Sluggers at Diamond Dawgs; Twins at Warhawks; Aviators at Rebels
6-12–Sluggers at Seeds (DH); Aviators at Diamond Dawgs; Twins at Monarchs
6-11–Rebels at Bat Cats; Seeds at Sluggers; Aviators at Diamond Dawgs; Monarchs at Twins
6-9–Bat Cats at Rebels; Diamond Dawgs at Aviators; Monarchs at Twins
6-8–Rebels at Bat Cats; Sluggers at Seeds (DH); Diamond Dawgs at Aviators; Monarchs at Twins
6-7–Bat Cats at Rebels; Aviators vs. Diamond Dawgs; Warhawks vs. Sluggers; Twins at Monarchs
6-5–Bat Cats 8, Seeds 5; Diamond Dawgs 6-7, Warhawks 5-5; Aviators 12-2, Sluggers 9-4; Twins 5, Rebels 1
6-4–Bat Cats 8-6, Seeds 5-1; Diamond Dawgs 7, Warhawks 5; Sluggers 9, Aviators 2; Twins 13, Rebels 3
6-3–Aviators 6-5, Cannons 5-2; Twins 8, Rebels 0; Warhawks 5, Diamond Dawgs 4
6-2–Bat Cats 17-5, Seeds 2-0; Warhawks 8, Diamond Dawgs 5; Twins 8, Rebels 0; Aviators 6, Sluggers 5; Monarchs 10, Broncos 2
6-1–Twins 4, Rebels 1; Sluggers 6, Aviators 1