HAYS — The Great Bend Chiefs parlayed a stellar pitching effort from Nick Ney, a momentum-shifting double play and two runs in the fourth inning en route to a 5-3 victory over Dodge City in Monday’s opener.
In an opening-round Class AAA American Legion zone baseball tournament game, Ney, a right-hander, picked an opportune time to throw his best game of the season, a game where he recorded a career-best nine strikeouts.
On a day where the temperature soared to 106 degrees, Ney’s pitch count soared to over 140, although he was able to weather the blistering conditions to help the Chiefs advance into the winners’ bracket.
“When you go to Barton, you throw like every day and you keep your arm strong,” said Ney, a sophomore-to-be for the Barton Community College baseball team. “I throw a lot at practice, so my arm is always strong and it’s nothing to worry about for me.
“I feel like I could pitch another game.”
Needless to say, Great Bend head coach Michael Stettinger was impressed.
“I think it was one of the best pitching performances I’ve seen from Nick Ney in the years he’s played legion baseball,” he said. “He had a couple early walks, but they came with two strikes, and he pitched just a great game.
“We had a couple good plays to get us out of innings. Danny made a nice catch to end the game and obviously, Nick helped himself out by getting the early double play.”
In the bottom of the ninth and trailing 5-3, Dodge City had a runner on first with two out after Taylor Murphy singled. The dangerous Jordan Doan came to the plate representing the tying run and he hit a sinking liner down the right-field line, but right fielder Daniel Herrman stretched out and made a diving catch to end the game.
“I caught one like that earlier in the year,” Herrman said. “When you catch one like that, you just hope it doesn’t fall out of the glove.”
Maintaining a 4-3 lead, the Chiefs scored an insurance run in the ninth for a two-run cushion after Brady Buehler, who led off the inning with a base on balls, later scored on a passed ball. The Rangers’ Doan, who relieved middle reliever Dylan Roy after Roy walked Connor Sell, also issued a pair of walks, although Great Bend didn’t score any more runs.
Hearken back to the momentum-shifting double-play ball back in the fourth. With the score knotted at 2, the Chiefs thwarted a golden Dodge City scoring opportunity after the Rangers loaded the bases with one out.
BJ Tieben and Aaron Tieben walked consecutively before Austin Weiser’s single to short left filled the bases. But the Chiefs got a tailor-made, double-play grounder by none other than Murphy to get out of the inning.
Murphy hit a comebacker to Ney at the mound, who turned and threw to catcher Bryce Beck at the plate, forcing out BJ Tieben, and then Beck threw to first to nail Murphy by a step.
The Rangers led 3-2 in the fifth after Collin Gifford’s run-scoring single drove home Doan. After leading off the inning with a double, Doan moved to third on a wild pitch.
Herrman set the table for the Chiefs in the seventh, where they scored the tying and eventual game-winning runs.
After Herrman punched a single to right-center, he went to second on a wild pitch before Buehler grounded out to third. Beck singled down the third-base line, driving in Herrman from third with the tying run. Following Beck, who stole second, Sell then grounded out with Beck moving to third.
Conaway followed by lifting a single to shallow right-center with the eventual game-winning run with the 4-3 lead.
“It was early in the pitch count and I just went with it,” Conaway said of his base hit. “Any time you have a pitcher out there, going for a complete game or if he’s feeling in a groove or anything, it lights a fire for you to go out and make plays for him and keep things going.”
Great Bend led 2-0 in the early going, scoring a pair of runs in the first after Mitch Kottas, the team’s top RBI man, hit a two-run single.
Sell reached on an error to open the game. After Conaway flied to left, Jace Bowman singled before Kottas drove his base hit to left.
Dodge City tied the game at 2 in the third after Doan hit an RBI double and later crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
CLASS AAA AMERICAN LEGION
ZONE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
Great Bend Chiefs 5,
Dodge City Rangers 3
123 456 789 R H E
GB 200 000 201 — 5 8 1
DC 002 010 000 — 3 7 2
Nick Ney & Bryce Beck; Collin Gifford, Dylan Roy (8), Jordan Doan & BJ Tieben. W — Ney. L — Gifford. 2B — Dodge: Doan 2; Great Bend: Ney, Kottas. 3B — Dodge: Roy.