Back-to-back errors doomed the Blue Jays Thursday night under the lights of historic Rathert Stadium during their first game of the season versus Salina Central (1-0).
With two Mustang runners in scoring position and two outs on the board, both Junction City (0-1) second baseman and starting pitcher Trevor Laughlin and shortstop Jonathan Phillips had balls hit right to them but were unable to field them cleanly to get out of the top of the seventh inning as Central poured on four runs to break the tie and clinch the eventual 10-6 victory.
“We’ve got to play hard and the boys learned tonight that the speed of practice is not near what you see in the game,” head coach Carl Laughlin said. “I’m not upset though, I’m upset at the loss, but I thought we played hard. We hit the ball hard. We need to keep our heads up though, I think we got out dobber down a little bit. We’ll bounce back.”
Down six after getting no-hit through the first three innings, the Blue Jays finally broke through. A lead-off single from Phillips led to Key-Ahn Taylor reaching base after getting hit by a pitch and Jordan Kell bunting his way to first to load the bases with no outs.
Designated hitter Jacob Varnado stepped up with a line drive, first-pitch single to left field scoring Phillips and pinch-runner Anthony Hamilton both to finally get the Blue Jays on the board for the first time this season.
“It was like the perfect storm,” Laughlin said. “(Jacob Varnado) came up with the big hit to score the first two and then once you get that going, once the momentum goes, everything starts rolling. You just get on the merry-go-round and keep going.”
Two batters later, one-hole hitter and center fielder Russel Wilkey hit a ground ball to third base that was bobbled which led Kell scoring, leaving runners on the corners with one out. Laughlin got one of his three walks of the game right after to load the bases for third-baseman Andrew Khoury who sacrificed a ball to right field, scoring Varnado and cutting the Central lead to two.
First baseman Bode Tillman got things all tied up one batter later with a double that scored both Wilkey and Laughlin before getting thrown out advancing to third, ending the big Blue Jay inning.
Two innings later, with the game still tied at six, Junction City had two players in scoring position with two outs. Khoury stepped up and watched two balls and a strike go by before almost threading a ground ball past Mustang shortstop Jaxon Kolzow who managed to scoop it up and throw him out at first base, ending the inning and stranding the two Junction City runners.
“Andrew hit the ball on the nails all night long and then he hit the ball right at them,” Laughlin said. “Two or three feet either way and we might blow that game open.”
Parker Kavanaugh earned the win in relief for the Mustangs, allowing just two runs, one earned, on two hits and two walks with two strikeouts in 3.2 innings.
Sophomore reliever Levi Mehl was saddled with the loss after taking over for Laughlin after an out in the third inning. Mehl allowed five runs on five hits and a walk but only one of those runs was earned. He struck out three.
“Levi Mehl really, really competed tonight,” Laughlin said. “He’s just a sophomore but he was just like, ‘Give me the ball coach. Let’s go.’”
The second game of the series played in Salina made it through one batter Friday evening before a storm rolled in and forced the game to be called. The game has been postponed to April 14.
This week, the Blue Jays are playing a two-game triangular with Great Bend and McPherson. On Monday, the three teams are playing in Great Bend before coming to Rathert Stadium on Tuesday to play the second. Junction City will play Great Bend at 2 p.m. and McPherson at 7 p.m.