Just as quickly as Kansas City Kansas Community College fell out of third place in the Jayhawk Conference, the Blue Devils moved right back into third with a sweep of Neosho County Saturday.
Shae Stephens and Julian Rivera combined on a 3-hitter in a 3-1 win in the opener and the Blue Devils rallied from an early 7-1 deficit for a 10-8 win in the second game as the Blue Devils got a measure of revenge for two losses at Neosho on Thursday.
The sweep vaulted the Blue Devils (21-11) to a game lead over Neosho (20-12) and maintained at least a 2-game lead over fifth place Fort Scott (17-13), which has a doubleheader with league-leading Johnson County (24-6) Sunday. At Baker JV in a non-conference game Monday, KCKCC will close out regular season play with four games against No, 13 ranked Johnson County starting at home Thursday at 1 p.m. In other closing action, second place Cowley (22-8) will play Fort Scott and Neosho will play Labette (10-20).
A freshman from Kissimmee, Fla., Julian Rivera pitched out of bases-loaded jams for saves in both games against Neosho County, the defending Jayhawk champion.
Shea Stephens pitched brilliantly over the first six innings in the opener, scattering three singles, walking none and striking out eight including five in a row during one stretch. But two hit batsman and a walk loaded the bases with one out and Rivera came to the rescue. After striking out Will Clark, he gave up a run on a bases-loaded walk on a 3-2 pitch before getting leadoff hitter Nate Crossman on a line drive to Tyler Pittman in left center to end it.
Limited to three singles the first four innings, the Blue Devils finally broke through in the fifth, scoring three times, the final two on a 2-out home run by Truman freshman Rorey Combs. Easton Fortuna ignited the game-winning rally with a single, stole second, went to third on a ground ball and scored on Drew Holtgrieve's sacrifice fly to center. Brigham Mooney was hit by a pitch and Combs pounded his second home run of the season to right-center.
Neosho took advantage of a couple of Blue Devil errors to open a 7-1 lead in the top of the second of the nightcap. The Panthers jumped on starter Corey Cowan for five hits and three runs in the first inning and added four more – all unearned – on a Nolan Beets' grand slam after a one-out error in the second.
From there, however, Cowan was nearly flawless, allowing just two hits and four baserunners over the next five innings, a shutdown performance that gave the Blue Devils ample time to rally and that they did. They got one run in the first on the first of three hits by Combs, an error and Chase Redick's ground ball RBI and then put five runs on the board in the second.
After a single by Fortuna and an error, Holtgrieve singled in two runs, Combs and Alex Phillips each doubled in a run and Redick singled in another to cut the KCKCC deficit to 7-6 and that's the way it stayed until the Blue Devils pulled even in the sixth on singles by Holtrgrieve, Combs and Pittman, the last two with two out.
Another two-out rally put KCKCC ahead to stay in the seventh. Brandon Green doubled with two out and came home on Fortuna's third single of the game and the Blue Devils added two insurance runs in the eighth on two walks, Pittman's squeeze bunt and a single by Phillips.
Cole Gacke pitched a scoreless eighth in relief of Stephens but after back-to-back singles with one out in the ninth, Rivera came on for his second save. After a walk loaded the bases, Rivera struck out Beets on an 0-2 pitch, hit a batter to force in a run and then fanned Joe Mondragon, also on an 0-2 pitch.
DÉJÀ VU – Twice KCKCC freshman relief pitcher Julian Rivera (right) walked off the mound to receive accolades from his teammates after pitching out of bases-loaded final inning jams and record saves in 3-1 and 10-8 wins over Neosho County Saturday. (KCKCC Photo by Alan Hoskins)