Kansas Cannons baseball wins fourth straight, clinches share of divisional title

Lionel Tipton
Contributing to BCTG
Kansas Cannon's John Branum pitches late in Sunday's win over the Park City Rangers

AUGUSTA – The Kansas Cannons were a model of efficiency Sunday night.

They had half as many hits as their opponent, the Park City Rangers, but the five hits they did get came at precisely the right time, and they were able to hold on for a wild 6-4 victory.

Park City had entered the game on a roll, winners of four straight and just a game back of the Walter Johnson Division-leading Cannons. 

Additionally, Rangers starter Tommy Tereschuk was unhittable through the first 3⅔ innings of the game. 

But the Cannons have quietly put together a four-game winning streak of their own since a frustrating 8-6 loss last Tuesday at the Wichita Dirtbags.

The showdown with the second-place Rangers was a critical game, said Cannons first baseman Stevenson Reynolds, whose two-run double keyed a four-run sixth inning.

“It’s a big win,” he said. “It’s been marked on our calendars. We needed that one.”

Second baseman Ethan Ezor, who singled in a run in the sixth, said the power game wasn’t getting it done.

“Sometimes, it’s not always the ‘sticks’ that bring it out,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to play ‘small ball’ and put the ball in play, and good things will happen.”

And, no better time to do it, against the second-place team.

“You’ve just got to come out swinging and put the ball in play,” Ezor said. 

As luck would have it, the Cannons will get another shot at the Dirtbags on Monday night in Wichita.

Gray said the recent success is just a matter of relaxing.

“We told them to relax and get back to doing what they do,” he said. “Just play the game; go back to being a kid and play the game.

“It was rough after (the loss to the Dirtbags), but we kind of rallied the troops, circled the wagons, and now we’re ready.”

The Cannons have just three home games, and nine overall, remaining. The final home games are Wednesday against the KCLB Moos and a doubleheader Saturday against the Kansas Curve that includes a makeup of a rained-out game June 11.

“It will be a good test for us to go on the road and show what we can do,” Ezor said.

Still, the Cannons did have their chances early Sunday, loading the bases in both the first and third innings without a hit. But Tereschuk managed to escape trouble both times.

“He just had us off-balance, and we couldn’t figure him out,” Cannons coach Dusty Gray said. 

Meanwhile, the Rangers jumped on Cannons starter Corbin Talley for two first-inning runs and a third in the fifth inning after Talley had recorded three scoreless innings, including facing the minimum in the third and fourth.

The Cannons managed just a run and two hits off Tereschuk through the first five innings and took out their frustrations on reliever Clay Burden, who began the sixth for Park City. Left fielder Carson Shively led off with a first-pitch double to left, and catcher Jared Hanks was hit by the first pitch he saw from Burden. Ethan Ezor then singled in Shively, Paul Schoenfeld – whose fourth-inning bloop single was the first hit off Tereschuk and scored the Cannons’ first run – then walked, and Cale Blasi followed with a fly ball down the left-field line that was caught, but Hanks beat the throw home, tying the score at 3-3. 

Reynolds then doubled to left, driving in Ezor and Schoenfeld for a 5-3 lead. Park City scored in the eighth to cut the lead to 5-4, but the Cannons loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning with one out and couldn’t score until Rangers reliever Chase Zienen uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Blasi to score an insurance run.

“We got some timely hits late and got a little help when they had some struggles with pitching,” Gray said. “We got the job done.”

Reynolds said the team did have trouble with Tereschuk.

“I think our timing was off a little bit,” he said. “But we made our adjustments when we needed to.”

Gray then brought in hard-throwing Jordan Ellison to close out the game. The tying run came to the plate when leadoff hitter Austin Caviness was hit by a pitch with a two-strike count. Ellison then settled down and struck out the next three hitters to save the victory for Evan Dean, who had pitched a scoreless sixth. John Branum, a recent addition to the Cannons, pitched two scoreless innings between Dean and Ellison.

“(Ellison) comes in and slams the door for us,” Gray said. “He’s stepped up and enjoyed that role, and I’m really quite happy there.”

The Cannons added a game to their division lead – and clinched at least a tie for the title – with the victory as the majority of the nine games left are against Jayhawk Division teams.

Homecoming

Sunday’s game marked the fourth of five games against Park City and the last one this season at Rodney Wheeler Stadium. The Rangers and Cannons have split the earlier meetings and will play one last time at Park City next Sunday.

The Rangers roster includes two former players at Circle High – pitcher Brayden Ketley and catcher Brandon Terrones, who didn’t play Sunday because of an injured hip.

Ketley entered in the seventh and pitched 1⅓ innings, giving up one run but no hits.

It was a return to a field where the two had engaged in a number of high school battles against archrival Augusta.

“It’s one of the nicer fields around here,” Ketley said. 

The summer season has been kind of a mixed bag, he said.

“It’s been kind of up and down,” Ketley said. “I love the team, though. It’s probably the best team I’ve played on, or one of them.”

After spending last season as a redshirt freshman at Hesston College, Ketley said he plans to play at Pratt Community College next season, where he’ll join a former high school classmate, Gunnar Hutson, who is playing for the Kansas Curve this season.

Terrones, who attends Midland University in Fremont, Neb., said coming back to Augusta gave him a strange feeling.

“It’s all so pretty weird,” he said. “It’s been two years since I got to step on this field. It brings back some good memories, all the guys I got to play with in high school and stuff like that. I love being out here.”

Terrones said he’s hopeful of getting back on the field Tuesday or Wednesday, bracing for one last shot Sunday against the Cannons. 

Rangers head coach Tyler Graham said he enjoys having some local talent on his team, especially because the Rangers have pulled in players from outside the United States.

“It’s nice to have those kids out here, have some local guys,” he said. “I’m glad they stuck around. They’ve actually contributed in ways and do everything I could ask for. They do everything the right way; they carry themselves the right way.

“We’ve got guys from Australia; we’ve got guys from Japan, California, Mississippi; we’ve got guys from Utah; guys from all over the place.”

The Rangers have had to overcome a great deal of adversity to do as well as they have, Graham said.

“Right now, we’re kind of struggling with players,” he said. “We’ve got 13 guys on the roster, but we’re going to keep competing our butts off and go from there.”