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Tigers take 3 of 4

4/20/2014

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University senior outfielder Clayton Garland has quietly produced one of the best batting averages in Tiger history. Garland carries a .430 average this spring, fourth-best in FHSU history, and easily the tops since Fort Hays switched to the MIAA eight years ago.  Garland, a two-year player after he transferred from Barton Community College, has a .407 career mark, third best for Fort Hays. In addition, Garland collected Jayhawk League Player of the Year honors last summer for the Hays Larks.

On Saturday, Garland and four other seniors played their final games at Larks Park and collected the first MIAA series victory of a difficult spring. On Friday, Fort Hays swept Lindenwood (Mo.) University, 7-3 and 6-1. Then, Fort Hays came back with four runs in the bottom of the fifth to win Game 1, 7-6, on Saturday. FHSU lost Game 2, 14-0, in a contest called after eight innings by the run rule.

"It kind of (stinks) that it could be my last game on this field," Garland said. "Just trying to look forward to next weekend, and just trying to not think about (the end)."

Fort Hays improved to 17-25, 14-22 MIAA and remained mathematically alive for a top-eight berth and a spot in the conference tournament with one weekend left, at Missouri Western State University.

LWU moved to 16-27, 13-19 MIAA.

"It's been a really tough year just battling every day," Garland said. "Our team has done a really good job of not quitting and getting some wins here and there."

Garland, starting center fielder Jordan Miller, first baseman Horace Johnson and relief pitchers Nathan Briar and Drew Martineau all saw action on senior day.  Garland finished 2 of 7 with two runs scored. He leads the team in most offensive categories, including 65 hits and 39 runs scored,  while Miller also was 2 of 7 with a run scored and a RBI. Miller had an ankle injury earlier in the year and missed 12 games. Since Miller returned March 14 at Washburn University, FHSU is 14-13 after a 3-12 start.

"He just continues to mature as a hitter," coach Steve Johnson said of Garland.

"It's a big weapon, because even in times when he is not swinging it well, he runs so well. He finds his way on base and does little things. It's unfortunate for Jordan that he has had to spend most of the season not at 100 percent, but he wanted back out there as soon as possible, and the minute he came back, he has played every game."

Johnson was 1 of 8 on Saturday, part of a season that wasn't as strong average-wise as last year's all-region performance. Still, Johnson carries a .283 average and leads the squad with 41 RBIs.  In Game 2, Miller, Garland and Johnson, each returning all-MIAA players, batted 1-2-3 in the lineup.

"It seemed like this year, he was the guy who always got the big hits," coach Johnson said. "The impactful hits - drove in two, three or four. In the early part of the season, that's what we were missing the most, was the big swing."

On Friday, junior right-hander Tyler Patty (2-5) allowed three runs in six innings for a quality start, and then Steven Federau (2-6) followed up with 5.2 innings of one-run ball. On Saturday, FHSU again struggled with their starters. In Game 1, Austin Unrein allowed six runs in 4.2 innings, but Nick Hammeke (3-0) and Gabe Cook (fourth save) closed the game with 2.1 scoreless innings.  

FHSU, down 6-3, came back with four in the bottom of the fifth. After a hit batter and forceout, second baseman Gus Strunk and Garland each hit ground balls to first baseman Mike Failoni. Both times, Failoni tried to throw to second, but tossed the ball into left field. After a flyout, third baseman Kevin Czarnecki and Cooper Langley followed with a RBI double and a run-scoring single.

In Game 2, left-hander Joe Mapes had worked 7.2 innings, the longest outing by a Tiger starter, in his last outing. This time, he last 3.2 innings and allowed five runs (four earned) to drop to 2-5. Zac Pearman (3-4) worked the shutout for Lindenwood.

"He was really bothered it today," Johnson said. "He was unable to repeat the performance, because he really felt like he had found it last week. That's the first thing he said, 'I don't know what's going on, I just don't have it today.'"

Briar made his team-high 16th appearance and Martineau came to get the last out, part of four relievers after Mapes. Martineau has battled arm issues, but is respected enough to earn team captain.

"Briar is a guy you can always hand the ball to," Johnson said. "I was really happy to get Drew Martineau out there to get the final out of that game. He has earned that."