BY JIM MISUNAS
A walkoff victory.
It was indeed a Chamber of Commerce night for the Great Bend Bat Cats.
Austin McNicholas delivered the coup de grace with the game-winning single that scored Reece Johnson for a 4-3 victory Monday over Jayhawk League runner-up Dodge City.
"Hit my first walk off tonight," McNicholas tweeted. "Basically two years without playing ... I was reminded how fun this game can be."
Bat Cats baserunner Reece Johnson finally beat a throw by University of Arkansas backup catcher Casey Opitz to second base to set up the game-winner. Opitz threw out Reece Johnson, Thomas Alexander and Brendan Madsen earlier in the game. Arkansas was the NCAA World Series runner-up at Omaha, Neb.
Al Burns Memorial Field was on fire from the outset after Bubba Andrasek threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Bat Cats coach Roger Ward cut the ceremonial red ribbon to celebrate the Bat Cats’ Chamber of Commerce membership.
It marked the first time the Bat Cats (11-23) had beaten Dodge City. The Bat Cats have surprised the Jayhawk League champion Hays Larks, runner-up Dodge City and the third-place finisher Liberal BeeJays in the past four games.
The Bat Cats have rarely enjoyed seeing all three phases – hitting, pitching and defense work in concert.
Starter Zach Curry struck out nine batters in six solid innings followed by Neal Lemmons. The Bat Cats’ infield and outfield delivered solid plays all night.
Andrew Schatz singled home Blaine Ray for a 1-0 lead after two innings. Dodge City’s Jordan Vujovich singled home Adam Hollar in the third inning.
Gavin John singled home Reece Johnson for a 2-1 lead after three innings. Thomas Alexander singled home Ray for a 3-1 fourth-inning lead.
Dodge City’s Dylan Johnson doubled home Opitz in the sixth inning for an unearned run. Vuvovich singled home Isaiah Haddad for a 3-3 tie through seven innings.
Ward stubbornly tested Opitz for the fourth time and was rewarded when the speedy Reece Johnson beat the throw to second base. A few pitches later, McNicholas gave the Bat Cats a moment to treasure from a forgettable summer.
"It was a very exciting night at the ballpark," Ward said. "We finally got one of those on our side. This team has found itself. They’ve really bonded over the last three weeks. It's sad it's going to end."
Ward was encouraged by the overflow crowd, which weere treated to the best baseball game of the summer.
"The guys were energized by the crowd," he said. "It was really a fun atmosphere. It was like our first game last year."
Dodge City 000 000 000 — 3 6 3
GB Bat Cats 000 000 001 — 4 9 3
Van Cleave, Felix (7), Sotomajor (9) and Opitz. Curry, Lemmons (7) and Andrew Schatz. W—Lemmons. L—Sotomajor. 2B—GB—Ray, Alexander; DC—Dylan Johnson
BAT CATS 1-RUN JAYHAWK GAMES (1-9)
L—Dodge City 9-8
L—Hays Larks 4-3
L—El Dorado 4-3
L—Hays Larks 2-1
L—Dodge City 7-6
W—Dodge City 4-3
Hays Larks 26-8
Dodge City A’s 21-13
Liberal Beejays 19-15
Derby Twins 18-17
El Dorado Broncos 15-20
GB Bat Cats 11-23
Haysville Aviators 10-24
MONDAY, JULY 23
Great Bend 4, Dodge City 3
Hays 14, Liberal 2
Haysville 4, El Dorado 1
TUESDAY, JULY 24
Great Bend at Dodge City
Liberal at Hays
Haysville at Derby
WEDNESDAY, JULY 25
Dodge City at Great Bend
Liberal at Hays
El Dorado at Haysville