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Panthers escape GC with narrow victories, secure WAC championship
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GARDEN CITY— A pair of home runs by senior Dakota Sanders added some needed momentum for the GBHS softball team as the Panthers edged host Garden City in the first of a WAC doubleheader Thursday. Great Bend then broke a 7-7 tie in game two with a two-run extra inning eighth to beat the Buffs 9-7 to earn the series sweep.

The two wins at Garden have secured the outright WAC title for Great Bend as they ride into the final two series with TMP and Hutchinson at 14-2 on the season and an undefeated 8-0 slate in conference competition.

“We played two hard fought games against a previously undefeated team,” said coach Carrie Minton. “I couldn’t be more proud of these young ladies and their determination to get these two wins. We started out really slow at the plate in the first game facing a good pitcher but Dakota stepped up for us offensively with those two critical homers,” she said.

Sanders and Morgan Kottas both finished at two for four. All three runs scored for the Panthers came from Sanders who finished with three RBI.

In game one, Garden City scored in their opening at-bat to take a 1-0 lead.

Things were rather quiet over the next three innings before Sanders launched the first of her two shots over the wall, this one to centerfield which scored Hannah Honomichl to give the Panthers a slim 2-1 lead.

The Buffs went on to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth before Sanders soloed over right centerfield to put the visitors up 3-2 to cap the win.

Hunter Middleton pitched the complete game victory allowing the two runs off of four hits. She also yielded a pair of walks but retired nine GC batters.

Middelton was impressive at the plate in game two leading Panther hitters at three for four. Middleton put up three of Great Bend’s nine runs, saddled three RBI and walked once. She joined Kacee Kasselman in the home run club with a two run blast over straight away center in the top of the fifth.

The Buffs took the initiative with two runs in their half of the second.

In the top of the third, Middleton’s double scored Regan Unruh and cut the Great Bend deficit to a run, trailing 2-1. Unruh then scored off of Middleton’s home run in the fifth and gave the visitors a 3-1 go ahead before Garden City swiped the lead in the sixth with two runs to go up 4-3.

Great Bend regained the lead and brought four runs across in the seventh as a two-run double by Honomichl scored Middleton and Lauren Welsch. An intentional walk to Sanders loaded the bases and set up an RBI single for Morgan Kottas that scored Honomichl and Lakin Funk.  

Garden answered with a three-run seventh to send the game to an extra inning.

It was all the Panthers would need as Middleton scored off of Kasselman’s homer to give Great Bend a 9-7 lead and the eventual victory.

Middleton (14-2) worked the entire outing from the circle giving up ten hits while striking out five opposing batters. Middleton has 124 strikeouts on the season following Thursday’s wins at GC. She surpassed the 100-strikeout mark just two days earlier in a doubleheader sweep of Hays.

“Hunter went the distance in the circle and did a tremendous job throwing two complete games,” said Minton. “When the pressure was on and the game was tight she dug in and really went after their line-up.”

Minton then turned her focus to some defensive miscues but added that the hitting power in the second game helped pull the Panthers through some very tight jams.

“We made a handful of errors today that were very uncharacteristic for our team,” she said. “But it was great to see the ladies pull together and step up for one  another.”

“We had so many of them go to the plate in game two and have aggressive at-bats which was great to see,” the coach continued. “The two intentional walks to Dakota just goes to show how much respect they had for her at the plate.”

The Panthers will take a breather next week before finishing regular season play at home against Thomas More Prep and Hutchinson May 12 and 14.