Monday’s game was the ninth this summer between Liberal and Dodge City, and the teams shared an extensive prior knowledge of each other that seemingly kept either from having an advantage.
Dodge City found an edge, however, by starting left-handed pitcher Derek Justice, whom the team picked up prior to the National Baseball Congress World Series and with whom Liberal had no familiarity.
That slight superiority was all Dodge City needed to win the rubber game between the teams 7-2 in an NBC elimination game at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Justice and Brennen Flaherty, another new pitcher previously unseen by the Bee Jays, got the first 20 outs for the A’s.
They beat Liberal starter Dalton Bernardi, who made a handful of appearances against Dodge City in Jayhawk League play. The teams split their eight league games and both teams went 19-15 in the league.
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"They didn’t know (Justice) and they didn’t know the first guy we brought in relief (Flaherty)," Dodge City manager Phil Stephenson said. "I just felt that might give us an advantage to some degree.
"We’d seen Bernardi three or four times — a couple times as a starter and a couple times in relief — and that’s kind of how it’s worked. He’s been really good on us early, and then about the second or third time through the lineup we’d find a way to get some runs against him. That pattern held true tonight."
Bernardi looked to be using the Dodge City hitters’ knowledge of him against them as he struck out the side in order in the first and four of the first six batters overall.
Justice was equally strong, facing the minimum over 2 2/3 innings before surrendering a solo home run to Liberal’s No. 9 hitter John Sigado on a first-pitch fastball. Justice, who the A’s added to the roster after he pitched in Virginia, lasted seven innings and allowed at least one baserunner in the final five.
But the Bee Jays managed one run after Sigado’s homer, getting to Justice and Flaherty for three hits in the seventh but leaving the bases loaded on Tanner Rainey’s fly out to center to end the inning.
"First time I’ve seen him pitch," Dodge City infielder Ivan Sigala said of Justice. "We just picked him up, but we picked him up for a reason. He came in and threw pretty well, and we got him runs and we got the win."
Sigado’s homer didn’t cancel out his struggles at third base in Dodge City’s three-run seventh inning. The A’s were nursing a 2-1 lead when Taylor Drake reached on Sigago’s first error. Drake scored three batters later on Cole Davis’ ground-rule double.
Sigado also was unable to handle a pop fly near the pitcher’s mound that could have gotten Liberal out of the seventh. It hit off the heel of his glove and the next batter, Bryant Burleson, drove in Davis with a single.
After Dodge City’s 2-1 loss to St. Joseph (Mo.) on Saturday, Stephenson lamented his team’s lack of offense. Three of their five runs were unearned on Monday, but the A’s made the most of many of their RBI situations.
"You’ve got to score when you get opportunities," Stephenson said. "Tonight, we did that. There were still a couple of opportunities that we left on the board where we could have scored an extra run or two. But I’ll take five in this situation, especially when we pitched the way we did."