Pitching is always critical when it comes to post-season tournament play but never is it more important than when Kansas City Kansas Community College and Hutchinson collide in a battle of two offensive juggernauts in opening round Region VI Division I super-regional playoff action Friday morning.
Seeded No. 5, KCKCC will put its 40-18 record on the line against the No. 4 seeded Blue Dragons (38-18) in the tournament opener Friday at 10 a.m. at Dumont Stadium in Wichita.
Led by Caden Doga, the national leader in home runs with 31, Hutch comes into the tourney with 80 home runs, a team batting average of .343 and an offense that scored 55 runs and pounded out 56 hits in a three-game elimination series with Independence, winning 23-5 and 16-14 while losing 17-16.
KCKCC will counter with a team batting average of .356 and 60 home runs and a starting lineup of all nine players hitting .317 or better.
"Hutch looks like a lot of teams in the Jayhawk East, very good offensively so we're going to have to be at our best," said KCKCC Coach Matt Goldbeck. "In an 8-team double elimination tournament like this, any team can win. You just have to get hot at the right time and catch a few breaks."
That was never more evident than in the opening round playoffs when Coffeyville, the No. 8 team in the Jayhawk, eliminated the West's No. 1 team, Colby, in just two games, the first time in history a No. 8 team had defeated a No. 1 seed.
KCKCC will send righthander Brandon Reid (6-2) to the mound in the opener. A sophomore from Toronto, Ontario, Reid is coming off two outstanding pitching performances, a 2-hitter against league champion Neosho County in which he had a no-hitter for five innings; and a 2-hitter in a 13-0 win over Barton County last Saturday. He'll be opposed by the ace of the Hutch staff, Nolan Hoffman, who has an 8-2 record with a 2.19 earned run average.
A win Friday would advance the Blue Devils into second round play against the Neosho-Allen County winner Saturday at 7 p.m., a loss would drop them into the loser's bracket against the Neosho-Allen loser Saturday at 10 a.m. Jake Purl (9-2) will get the start in the second game with Dustin Eby (4-2) the likely starter in a game three. Avery Fliger, who is 7-2 with a 3.15 ERA, is the top reliever along with Chad Cox (4-1), Tanner Vestal (3-2) and Cameron Bednar (3-2).
Semifinal games will be played Sunday with the championship game Monday night unless a second game is needed. It would be played Tuesday. "You can win it in four games but if you lose in the first or second rounds, it takes seven wins and six in you lose in the semifinals," says Goldbeck.
Rightfielder Chase Redick, who is hitting .354 with 34 RBI from the leadoff spot, will bat first followed by the three Blue Devil leaders in home runs – first baseman Conor Behrens, a .389 hitter with nine homers and 47 RBI; third baseman Travis Stroup, the team leader in hitting at .466 with 13 homers and 55 RBI; and centerfielder Eli Lovell, who is hitting .465 and leads in home runs with 15 and RBI with 82.
Lefthanded hitting leftfielder Ryan Fisher, who is hitting .362 with six homers and 57 RBI, will hit fifth followed by catcher Drew Holtgrieve (.352, 6 homers and 49 RBI); shortstop Albert Woodard (.317, 36 RBI); designated hitter Ty Bradshaw (.469 in 19 games); and second baseman Easton Fortuna (.343, 21 RBI).
Teams from the Jayhawk East captured six of the eight spots in the super-regional. Other opening round games Friday send Cowley (39-16) against Garden City and Johnson County (42-16) against Coffeyville. All games will be nine innings with a 10-run rule after seven innings.
There were smiles all around after Kansas City Kansas Community College swept Barton County 13-0 and 7-3 Saturday to advance to the NJCAA Division I super-regional tournament against Hutchinson in Wichita Friday at 10 a.m. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)