Thomas More Prep-Marian baseball coach Dustin Washburn doesn't have a ton of critiques for his team as the regular season winds down for the Monarchs.
TMP has been hitting all throughout the lineup, turning in solid pitching performances on the mound and showing off improved defense.
Prior to Monday's doubleheader against Abilene, perhaps TMP's biggest concern — if you could even call it a real concern — was that the one-loss Monarchs hadn't been in many tight games.
But TMP can now officially consider itself battle-tested.
After breezing to a 10-0 run-rule win in the first game, TMP pulled out a thriller over Abilene in the nightcap, edging the Cowboys 6-5 in eight innings on senior day at TMP.
Adam Gottschalk brought in Creighton Renz on a sacrifice fly to left field for the winning run in the eighth. The Monarchs (17-1) forced the extra inning after Tate Garcia drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the seventh.
"That's the best thing that could have happened to this team was to be in a tight game," Washburn said. "We talk about it all the time at practice as far as executing when things are tight, but we just haven't had a lot of close games this year.
"But it was a good situation to be in a tight game. I was very happy with the way we executed."
Trailing 5-4 in the seventh, the Monarchs loaded the bases after Luke Ruder singled, Gottschalk reached on an error and Cole Zimmerman laid down a well-placed bunt for a single. Abilene pitcher Noah Wildman came up with a strikeout and popup to put the Cowboys an out away from taking the win.
Garcia was down to his last strike after falling behind 1-2 before working the count full and taking ball four to score Ruder.
"It was a great at-bat," Washburn said. "He battles. He's a competitive kid, and there's probably nobody else I'd rather have up there in that situation."
In the eighth, Zimmerman held Abilene scoreless on the mound and TMP got one-out singles from Renz and Ruder before Gottschalk hit one deep enough to left to allow Renz to score.
"Just tried to get something through the gap or a sac fly like that to get the run in and win the game," Gottschalk said. "Figured if it was in the air, anything was good enough to tag."
Garcia, Ruder, Zimmerman and Karl Rack each had two hits in Game 2. Garcia pitched the first 2.1 innings, allowing three runs (one earned) on four hits. Trenton Mayo gave up two runs on five hits and had five strikeouts 3.2 innings, and Zimmerman worked two scoreless innings to notch the win.
TMP dominated in all phases of the first game, racking up 13 hits while Chase Werth held the Cowboys to one hit in 4.1 innings on the mound.
"It felt great, honestly," Gottschalk said. "Whenever we can come out and score runs and do what we need to do on defense, it feels awesome."
Garcia had three hits in Game 1 and the Monarchs got two hits each from Brady Kreutzer, Gottschalk and Zimmerman.
"We played well the first game," Washburn said. "That's the funny thing about baseball: That 10-nothing game means nothing for the second game."
TMP will close out the regular season on Thursday at Colby. The Monarchs' Class 3A regional tournament assignment will be hosted by Lakin next week.
Washburn said he believes the Monarchs are playing their best baseball at the right time.
"I'm very happy with the way we've played," Washburn said. "We got into this tight game and I was, not nervous, but anxious to see how we'd perform in this kind of environment. I'm glad it turned out the way it did, especially for the seniors on senior day."