Jayhawk East No. 8 seed Neosho County Community College was one out away from marking the biggest upset in NJCAA Region VI Baseball Tournament history, but a two-out error by the Neosho second baseman and back-to-back RBI singles from David Cruz and Kade Kauk prevented the first-round sweep. Jayhawk West No. 1 seed Seward County Community College was able to hold off elimination with an 8-7 win in game two to force a deciding game three on Sunday afternoon. Neosho County won the opener 9-5 as the two teams split the opening day of the Region VI Tournament First-Round Playoff Series at Brent Gould Field in Liberal. Seward County (39-17) and Neosho County (24-29) will play the deciding game of the best two-of-three series on Sunday afternoon with a first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. The game-three winner will advance to the eight-team Region VI Tournament, May 10-14, at Lawrence Dumont Stadium in Wichita.

The Panthers stunned the Saints in game one defeating SCCC ace pitcher Tomas Cruz. Neosho County successfully executed three suicide-squeeze bunts and tallied 19 base hits – 12 hits coming against Cruz – to win the first game of the series.

Eight NCCC players recorded multi-hit games and sophomore lefty Timmy Lysaught earned the victory on the mound pitching eight innings while scattering 10 hits with four strikeouts.

Seward County, meanwhile, trailed 9-1 going into the bottom of the ninth inning as they couldn’t come up with the big base hit stranding 11 base runners, including seven runners in scoring position. The Saints were able to score four runs in the ninth inning on three base hits sending 10 batters to the plate.

Neosho County committed four errors in game one, but survived with a big offensive game at the plate batting .475 (19-for-40) as a team. Tomas Cruz dropped just his third game of the season (10-3) allowing five runs (three earned), one walk and striking out six batters. Sophomore Tyler Binkley pitched the final three frames for the Saints allowing seven hits, four runs and one walk with two strikeouts.

SCCC freshman Mikel Huston led the team going 3-for-5, and center fielder Keegan Morrow (2-for-5) and David Masters (2-for-4) also picked up multi-hit games.

In game two, Seward County took a 5-1 lead after Neosho County committed five errors in the opening three innings of play. Morrow and Masters each recorded RBIs for Seward in the second inning, and Kauk drove home a run with a single to center field to give the Saints an early four-run lead.

Seward County left-handed pitcher Christian Kowalchuk allowed only one run in the opening four innings before the Panthers scored three runs in the fifth inning to cut the Saints lead to 5-4.

Kowalchuk would end up exiting the game in the eighth inning with the lead after pitching 7.1 innings and allowing seven hits, five runs (four earned), four walks and posting five strikeouts.

The Saints weren’t able to hold Kowalchuk’s lead as David Cruz, who entered defensively in the second inning, made a two-out error that allowed the game-tying run to score in the top of the eighth inning with reliever Bobby Doran on the mound.

Neosho then took its first lead of game two with two runs on a sacrifice fly and a RBI single by David Wade to take a 7-5 lead going into the bottom of the ninth inning.

Since the Region VI Tournament changed to its current format in 2004, never has a No. 8 seed upset the No. 1 seed in the first round. The Panthers had their chance at history slip away in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The eventful ninth inning started with Neosho reliever Cole Moore striking out Morrow and Masters to give the Panthers two outs and nobody on base. Moore then issued a four-pitch walk to clean-up hitter Will Gowdy before he was lifted for closer Jake Kleine, who tallied the save in game one.

The first batter Kleine faced was left fielder Caleb Nine who singled to left field advancing Gowdy to second base. Then the Panthers committed their sixth error in the game, and their 10th error of the day, on a slowly hit groundball to Tim Lackovic at shortstop who flipped to Craig Meyer at second base who dropped the ball for the force out to load the bases with two outs.

That is when David Cruz hit a two-run RBI single to center field and Kauk followed with the game-winning single to right field to give the Saints the come-from-behind victory.

Kauk and Cruz each went 3-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI to lead the Saints offensively. Doran recorded his fourth win of the season pitching 1.2 innings allowing four hits, two runs and striking out one batter.

The Saints’ victory snapped a three-game losing streak to Neosho, with all three losses coming in post-season play. The Panthers defeated the Saints 9-6 in extra-innings in 2003 in Liberal, as they later advance to the JUCO World Series. In 2006, Neosho County knocked off the Saints 9-7 in the Region VI Tournament Final Four and then won their third straight over SCCC with the 9-5 win in game one on Saturday.

FIRST-ROUND REGION VI TOURNAMENT RESULTS:
E1 Cowley (33-17) vs. W8 Garden City (21-28) – at. Arkansas City, KS
Game 1: Cowley defeated Garden City, 10-3
Game 2: “If Needed” (TBA)
Game 3: TBA

W4 Butler (29-22) vs. E5 Allen County (26-21) – at. El Dorado, KS
Game 1: Butler defeated Allen County, 4-2
Game 2: Allen County defeated Butler, 7-6
Game 3: Sunday (TBA)

E3 Fort Scott (35-18) vs. W6 Dodge City (21-34) – at. Fort Scott, KS
Game 1: Dodge City defeated Fort Scott, 13-7
Game 2: Fort Scott defeated Dodge City, 9-0 (8)
Game 3: Sunday (TBA)

W2 Hutchinson (36-13) vs. E7 Coffeyville (16-24) – at. Hutchinson, KS
Game 1: Hutchinson defeated Coffeyville, 8-3
Game 2: Coffeyville defeated Hutchinson, 3-2
Game 3: Sunday (TBA)

E2 Johnson County (35-15) vs. W7 Cloud County (24-32) – at. Overland Park, KS
Game 1: Sunday (TBA)
Game 2: Sunday (TBA)
Game 3: “If Needed” (TBA)

W3 Barton County (24-19) vs. E6 Independence (23-26) – at. Great Bend, KS
Game 1: Independence defeated Barton County, 7-6
Game 2: Barton County defeated Independence, 14-9
Game 3: Sunday (TBA)

E4 Kansas City, KS (29-16) vs. W5 Colby (24-26) – at. Kansas City, KS
Game 1: Colby defeated Kansas City, KS, 9-4
Game 2: Sunday (TBA)
Game 3: “If Needed” (TBA)

W1 Seward County (38-16) vs. E8 Neosho County (23-28) – at. Liberal, KS
Game 1: Neosho County defeated Seward County, 9-5
Game 2: Seward County defeated E8 Neosho County, 8-7
Game 3: Sunday (1 p.m.)