By RICK PETERSON
Washburn Rural's 2021 baseball season got off to somewhat of a rocky start, with the Junior Blues suffering injuries to a pair of key players and stumbling out of the gate to a 2-4 record.
But now the Junior Blues are playing the way Rural coach Jay Mastin knew they could, giving themselves a chance at the Centennial League championship with 12 wins in their last 13 games, including a 17-1, 20-1 sweep over Highland Park Tuesday at Hummer Sports Park.
Next up for the 14-5 Junior Blues is a trip to Manhattan Wednesday to complete a suspended game (3-3 in the top of the second), with the winner of that contest taking the league title.
"We feel real good,'' Mastin said. "These guys have got a lot of fight in them. We're playing for a league title and there's a chance to host a regional as well, so we have a lot to play for. This is an exciting time of the year and knowing that our last game of the (regular season) is for league title just adds a lot.
"I knew we were going to be competitive, I knew we had some talent, and getting off to that slow start kind of surprised me a little bit, but I knew the fight was in them, I knew the desire was there.''
Washburn Rural took care of business against the Scots, with senior Kade Walker throwing a complete-game one-hitter in the opener and junior Carson Rosen (one inning) and sophomore Kaleb Wellshear (four innings) combining for a five-inning one-hitter in the nightcap while the Junior Blues lashed out 31 hits on the day with 11 doubles.
Rural scored the only two runs it would need in the top of the first of the first game and added three runs in the second and single runs in the third, fourth and fifth frames before exploding for nine runs in the seventh.
Senior Christian Gallegos scored the lone run for Highland Park (3-17) in the bottom of the seventh.
Walker struck out four and issued three walks in his route-going performance while senior Hunter Vondemkamp went 4 for 6 at the plate with two runs batted in and senior Anthony Taggart 3 of 5 with three runs scored.
Senior Brady Patterson, junior Brock Howard and senior Andre Chavez all had two hits in the opener and senior Davan Brady, senior Cooper Carlgren, Chavez, Patterson, Taggart and Vondemkamp all contributing doubles in Rural's 19-hit attack.
Rural took a 6-0 lead with three-run innings in its first two at-bats in the second game.
Highland Park sophomore Alex Patterson scored in the bottom of the third on a hit from senior Ayden Prettyman, but Rural scored four times in the fourth and 10 runs in the fifth to end the game via the 10-run spread rule at the end of the fifth.
Rosen pitched a scoreless first inning for Rural before Wellshear came on for the final four innings, allowing a hit and a run while walking four batters and striking out 10.
Junior Robby Bolin, who recently returned to action after suffering a broken collarbone the first day of practice, went 4 for 5 with a double and four RBI while Taggart went 3 for 4 with three doubles and four RBI and Brady went 2 for 4 with a double.
Rural has been without sophomore Ty Weber, who suffered a leg injury in the Junior Blues' season-opener.
WASHBURN RURAL 17, HIGHLAND PARK 1
Washburn Rural 231 110 9 -- 17 19 1
Highland Park 000 000 1 -- 1 1 0
Walker and Patterson. Long, M. James (7), Gallegos (7) and Patterson. W -- Walker. L -- Long. 2B -- Washburn Rural: Davan Brady, Cooper Carlgren, Andre Chavez, Brady Patterson, Anthony Taggart, Hunter Vondemkamp.
WASHBURN RURAL 20, HIGHLAND PARK 1
Washburn Rural 330 4(10) -- 20 12 2
Highland Park 001 00 -- 1 1 4
Rosen, Wellshear (2) and Johnson. M. James, Osayande (5), Gallegos (5) and Patterson. W -- Wellshear. L -- M. James. 2B -- Washburn Rural: Anthony Taggart 3, Robby Bolin, Davan Brady.