Although players only had a couple practices together, and he still didn’t have a full roster at his disposal, Junction City Brigade head coach Derek Francis was happy to see his team in some live action against the Kansas City Knights Friday night.
“Obviously we are still waiting on some guys, playing with nine guys right now so it gets pretty tough,” Francis said. “But, I like what I saw for the most part. There are some things we can clean up defensively, but I like the way we run the bases.”
Francis didn’t waste any time being aggressive on the base paths. In the bottom of the first inning, leadoff man Ed Scott singled to center, then stole second base. After Kade Wallace walked in the next plate appearance, Francis called for a double-steal and it was successful. The Brigade had runners on second and third with nobody out, but was unable to punch either of the runners in. This is a strategy Francis knew he was going to tackle when he saw the personnel he would have on his roster this summer.
“It’s one of those things I knew we had coming in on paper,” Francis said. “I know we can really run; I think it’s an athletic group. We’re going to have more athletic guys coming in too; we’re missing four or five guys that can really run still. But, it’s something we’re going to try to do. We’re going to try to put a lot of pressure on teams and try to get the extra 90 feet as much as we can. I think that’s important. Whether you get the catcher moving around back there or you get the middle infielders moving. Now, you can just poke the ball through the infield and really get things going. I think it’s important to speed the team up as much as you can and that happened tonight. We had probably seven or eight stolen bases, I don’t even know. And it happened from the get-go; Ed Scott had two right off the bat. That was fun to watch.”
Brigade starting pitcher Riley Taylor delivered five strong innings, and only surrendered one run. Junction City’s Thane McDaniel came in to relieve Jayton Haggard in the seventh inning. Pitching in the Centennial League All-Star Game just a couple days prior, McDaniel only had one practice with the Brigade under his belt. He thought it was unlikely that he was going to pitch in Friday’s contest, but knew when he got called to the bullpen that his number was soon going to be called. Stepping on to the mound in a tied game with two runners on base and just one out, McDaniel wasn’t nervous. He had a whole city in the stands behind him.
“When I got out there and he handed me the ball, there wasn’t too much nervousness,” McDaniel said. “I just knew I needed to get the job done; I needed to try to minimize. There was a sense of pride because I was playing in front of my friends, family and city. That was really fun and I enjoyed that.”
McDaniel came into a jam and got the Brigade out of trouble. McDaniel got Cody Rowe and Adam Rellihan to fly out in order to end the visiting Knights’ threat.
The bats came alive after McDaniel got them out of the threat in the bottom the seventh inning. After Ed Scott got hit by a pitch, he proceeded to get to second base after a balk by the KC pitcher. The balk proved costly, as Kade Wallace knocked Scott in to put the Brigade up 3-2. Zane Schmidt followed that with a base hit, and Dylan Thurber followed him with a walk to juice the bases. Carson Zenger brought home two runs with a double to put the Brigade on top 5-2. This insurance was all McDaniel needed to put himself and the team in position to get the win.
With a lot of his friends sitting behind the dugout and yelling his name, McDaniel came out composed for the eighth inning. McDaniel finished the inning by fanning two batters to go to the bottom of the inning holding a 7-2 lead.
“Playing in front of them, playing in front of people who have seen you grow up, it was just an enormous sense of pride and I just loved doing it,” McDaniel said.
Francis first saw McDaniel throw a bullpen session just two days ago, and was throwing him into a tough spot in that seventh inning. But, McDaniel answered the call and Francis hopes for that to continue as the season moves on.
“When he came in with two guys on, we were in a little bit of trouble, a little bit of a jam,” Francis said. “He came in, hometown kid, and the crowd really started getting into it. They recognized the name and watched him growing up. He dominated, he looked really sharp and it’s really cool to see. You never know if there’s going to be some sort of butterflies and stuff. We had a really good crowd tonight. But, he came in and really got after it, and it was really good to see.”
The Brigade held on after a late rally by the Knights to win its home opener 8-5. JC’s Thane McDaniel got the win for the Brigade and many are not expecting that to be the last one for the hometown kid.