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Great Bend Bat Cats hit big time at NBC



WICHITA – A journey that started with a dream has transformed into a dream come true.

Great Bend Bat Cats coach Roger Ward wanted to energize summer baseball in Great Bend and predicted the possibility of an NBC national tournament bid.

Ward, the Bat Cats’ resident magician, waved his magic wand and Great Bend earned a spot in the 2017 NBC Tournament with an 11-9 victory Thursday over the Derby Twins. The Bat Cats (23-19) closed with an 11-6 record while Dodge City collapsed with a 4-13 finish.

“When we qualified, I shed some tears,” Ward said. “There was gamut of emotions. I believe making the NBC Tournament validates what we’ve accomplished. This team will get the credit it deserves.”

The Bat Cats open at 4 p.m. Sunday against the Dallas Dirt Bags at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Pitcher Alex Knight will earn the start. Alex Ruxlow will be a key reliever.

“We’ll have to patch Sunday’s game on the mound,” Ward said.

Ward played in the 1992 NBC Tournament with the Liberal Bee Jays.

“It’s an exciting team for a first-year baseball program in the Jayhawk League. This is what you work for,” Ward said. “The NBC Tournament is a fun week. You start off and play every other day and our guys will be ready. We’ll show up and play good baseball.”

Two defining plays saved the Bat Cats’ season. Centerfielder Mateo Zunica preserved an 11-9 lead when he crashed into the fence to catch a fly ball by Anthony Dominquez.

“That was a tremendous catch, a game-saver,” Ward said. “It’s the best catch of the year. Mateo banged into the wall.”

Benjamin Sems provided the Bat Cats with an 11-7 lead with a two-run homer.

“That was huge, but Sems has hit the baseball hard and been our leading hitter down the stretch,” Ward said. “Squaring the ball up is never easy. But he was upset about an error that gave Derby an unearned run.”

There was plenty of drama Thursday because Haysville had to beat Dodge City to help the Bat Cats finish fourth. Ward did not want to know the Haysville-Dodge City score.

But he figured someone in the dugout was keeping track.

“I didn’t want to know the score, but it seems like everyboydy in the dugout knew,” Ward said.

Haysville led 10-3 before the lead was down to 12-10 in the ninth inning. Out-of-state Bat Bat players drove their own cars to Derby if the Bat Cats’ season was over Thursday.

“One swing of the bat and we’re done,” Ward said. “They were all keeping track on their phones. It was great when Dodge City lost. It’s a testament to the Haysville coach and their players. What a job they did.”

Ward softened his stance and found himself cracking joked to keep his team loose when the season wound down.

“We had guys step up all summer long,” Ward said. “It’s a credit to our players and my assistant coaches that we’ve accomplished this. It’s been a team effort.”

The Bat Cats will play Tuesday and Thursday at the NBC Tournament against Hattiesburg, Miss. and the Inland Empire (Calif.) Gooolden Bears.