McPherson College may have been the visiting team on the scoreboard Wednesday night, but the Bulldogs certainly felt comfortable in their surroundings as they defeated Central Christian College, 10-4, in a nonconference baseball game at Tiger Stadium.
It stands to reason, though, that McPherson (13-6) would have a sense of familiarity with the facility formerly known as Light Capital Diamond, as it served as the Bulldogs' home from 2012 until they made the move down Avenue A to Bulldog Park this season.
McPherson grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, turning a leadoff walk by Jackson Goodmiller into a run three batters later on an RBI single by Evan Willow.
The Tigers (1-18) answered in the bottom half of the frame, taking advantage of a leadoff walk of their own as Andru Kemp scored on a Brian Marroquin groundout. Central Christian threatened to move in front in the bottom of the second, putting two runners on with two outs, but McPherson starter Chad Gotto was able to strike out Joshua Zachary to get out of the jam.
The Bulldogs responded in the next half-inning as Trevor Haycock sent the first pitch of his second at-bat over the right-center field fence for a solo home run to give McPherson a 2-1 lead. The visitors added two more runs in the fourth as the first three Bulldog hitters reached base. Dylan Fontenot scored on a Mark Strebin sacrifice fly with the bases loaded. Brevin Baessler moved up from second on the play and scored when Desmond Grayson hit into a fielder's choice.
The Tigers pulled to within a run in the fifth on a two-run blast to left by Shomari Cann, but McPherson effectively shut the door on the hosts by putting up six runs in the top of the sixth inning. Fontenot led off the frame with a double down the left-field line, then scored two batters later on a Dominick Ramos RBI single through the hole at second base. Ramos came in on a Goodmiller single to left to put the Bulldogs up 6-3, but the back-breaker for Central Christian came two batters later when - with the bases loaded - Lane Fleming lofted a ball high into night sky. The ball was dropped by Zachary in right field, allowing Strebin and Goodmiller to score. The issue was compounded when Zachary's throw to the plate ended up out of play, bringing in Haycock and Fleming to give McPherson a 10-3 advantage.
Bulldog reliever Brett Carter retired the Tigers in order in both the sixth and seventh innings but ran into a spot of bother in the eighth, allowing the first three Central Christian batters to reach with base hits. He settled in, though, striking out Kyler Jay. The Tigers were able to eke out a run as Kemp scored from third when Carter opted to get the force-out at second base on a Justin Freas fielder's choice back to the mound. Carter's throw nearly ended up in center field but Fontenot was able to corral the ball and tag out Marroquin trying to move up from first. The Bulldogs got out of the inning when Freas was forced at second on a ground ball to Fontenot at short.
Both teams left a runner on in a scoreless ninth inning with McPherson's Tyler Dunn (retiring three straight after conceding a leadoff single up the middle to end the game.
Gotto allowed just one unearned run on three hits and a pair of walks while striking out two in 3 1/3 innings but did not factor into the decision. Carter (2-1) threw 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out five to get the win.
"I thought we pitched well," said head coach Bryan Moses. "That was really the key. The combination of Gotto, Carter and Dunn did not let them have big innings. That's how you win these midweek games; you control the bleeding and limit the big innings."
Bailey Jay took the loss for Central Christian after allowing nine runs (six earned) on nine hits and four walks in 5 2/3 innings. He had one strikeout. Relievers Jared Jones and Corbin Ramos combined to allow one run on two hits while striking out four in the final 3 1/3 innings for the Tigers.
The Bulldogs rapped 11 hits, led by three from Ramos and a pair from Willow, while Strebin drove in a pair. Cann and Marroquin each had two hits to lead the Tigers.
"I thought Haycock's home run was a huge moment in the game," Moses added. "[Central Christian] had just tied the game and their dugout was feeling good and then Haycock leaves the yard to swing the momentum back in our favor. I think that was the biggest swing of the day."
Wednesday's game marked the first of four meetings between McPherson and Central Christian this season. The second game of the City Series is scheduled for March 13 at Tiger Stadium. The final two installments are slated for April 3 and April 17 at Bulldog Park. The Bulldogs continue Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) play this weekend when Southwestern College (8-4, 4-2 KCAC) pays a visit to Bulldog Park for a three-game series.
"[Although it's a new program, Southwestern's players] are veterans," remarked Moses when asked about the Moundbuilders. "They're primarily junior college guys, so I expect that they know how to win games. They know how to win close games. I expect they'll compete on the mound and I think they're going to be tough. You can't just take two of three from a team like Sterling and not be good."
The teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at noon, then complete the series with a single nine-inning game at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.