The Junction City Brigade (20-14) couldn’t overcome a massive early deficit, falling to the Topeka Golden Giants (21-10-1) by a final score of 11-5 on the road Thursday night in the first game of the Cowdin Cup Championship.
“We got hit around a bit. They were playing defense. When you make five errors in a game, you can’t really expect to win. We did okay offensively, and we lost by six. A big part of that difference is not playing any defense,” Brigade head coach Seth Wheeler said.
Sophomore pitcher Hayden Wheeler got the start for the Brigade on Thursday night, and struggled. He allowed eight runs and seven hits while striking out one batter in a little over two innings of work. Sophomore utility player Colin Chandler replaced Wheeler with two outs remaining in the third inning. He allowed three runs and five hits while striking out two batters in three innings of work. Sophomore pitcher Austyn Gooch replaced Chandler in the seventh, allowing two hits and no runs and did not strike out a batter in one inning of work. Freshman pitcher Jacob Uhing replaced Gooch in the eighth inning, allowing no hits and no runs while striking out no batters in one inning of work.
“I don’t think (Hayden) was nervous, I think he just wasn’t executing a lot of pitches. He got hit around a little bit, but he wasn’t that bad, He lost a couple that hurt him and kind of put himself down in counts. He couldn’t really throw his secondary pitches for strikes. He’s got to command the zone better,” Wheeler said.
The Brigade also struggled early in the field. At the end of the second inning, Junction City had committed three errors.
“We did not play very good defense. We were kind of throwing balls around, and not fielding ground balls. When you don’t play good defense, it’s really tough to win,” Wheeler said.
The Brigade were very good on offense, but had to play catch-up for most of the game. At one point in the fifth inning, Junction City trailed Topeka by a score of 10-1. The Brigade totaled 14 hits on Thursday night. Freshman infielder Andrew McKenzie and sophomore outfielder Kyle Klomfahs had one hit apiece. Freshman catcher Matt Westphal, junior infielder Jake Clark, and sophomore outfielder Tyler Bracht all had two hits apiece. Freshman infielder Tim Bell and freshman catcher Andrew Morrow both had three hits.
At one point in the sixth inning, Wheeler decided to shuffle his lineup. He subbed out Westphal for Chandler, Klomfahs for senior outfielder Ryan Banwart, sophomore utility player Garrett Francis for freshman pitcher Charlie Peyla, Clark for sophomore first baseman Lane Fleming, and freshman outfielder Trae McDaniel for senior outfielder Cole Brecheisen.
“A lot of that was just heat. The game started at 6 p.m. and we took batting practice at 4:40 p.m. It was 110 (degrees) on the turf. We were getting beat, so I decided to throw some guys in. They responded pretty well. We hit okay all day. We had 14 hits. That’s pretty good,” Wheeler said.
The loss puts the Brigade, once again, into an elimination game situation. A loss on Friday night at Rathert Stadium would award the Cowdin Cup to Topeka. A win would force a game three on Saturday. The last time the Brigade were in this situation, in the previous round against the Midwest A’s, the team swept the final two games.
“I don’t think (our) team is lacking any confidence. It’s a win-or-go-home situation. I think they’re pretty confident in themselves right now. You’ve got to sell out to win game two, and anything can happen in game three,” Wheeler said.