By CONOR NICHOLL
Garden City High School softball has enjoyed perennial success across 25-plus years under John Ford and current tenth-year coach Trina Mai (Moquett). GC went 17-4, captured the Western Athletic Conference championship and advanced to the 6A state tournament last spring. Buffs’ Brie Manwarren earned WAC Player of the Year.
She hit .458 with 18 extra-base hits with 42 RBI and 36 runs scored. In the circle, the right-handed Manwarren went 16-3 with a 3.63 earned-run average with 185 strikeouts in 123.1 innings. Manwarren is among Kansas’ top juniors for all classes this spring.
Plus, Garden City returned Yesenia Castro, who batted .433 in 30 at-bats, and Jesykah Foster, who carried a .347 mark and has signed with Garden City Community College. Those were the top-three hitters back for a Buffs’ squad that graduated 57 percent of their hits. Mai, a former Garden City CC head softball coach, carried a career 134-41 mark with the Buff program entering this season.
In addition to the well-known trio, Garden City also returned a pair of juniors in Angel Serrano and Kamryn Foster and has several new players step up, especially freshman Piper Harris. Serrano batted .283, while Foster posted a .255 average in 2021.
This season, the influx of the key veterans and new starters has yielded another impressive spring for the Buffs. Garden City delivered an 11-2 record, including nine straight victories. The Buffs are undefeated in WAC play.
“We have got kids here that can compete, and I love to coach them up, and see how far we can get them and make everyone on the eastern half think about us a little bit more,” Mai said.
On April 28, GC beat Great Bend, 3-2, in 14 innings in a wild game. It marked the third straight win versus Great Bend this week. Garden City won 12-2 on April 26, and then 4-0 in the first game of the doubleheader. The Buffs have allowed 2.9 runs a contest, third fewest in 6A West, per KSHSAA standings.
“I am proud of the whole entire group,” Mai said.
Manwarren pitched all 21 innings of the doubleheader. She struck out 20 in the 14-inning game, one shy of the school record, per Garden City athletics. Manwarren permitted two unearned runs and had zero walks. Last week, including a doubleheader sweep versus Hays High on Monday, Manwarren worked every inning and posted a 5-0 record with 41 innings, 18 hits and three earned runs against 68 strikeouts.
In the 14th inning, Manwarren walked, Castro delivered a single and Harris delivered a game-winning single. In her first nine starts this season, Manwarren worked every inning for Garden City. She posted an 8-1 record, 0.89 earned-run average with 101 strikeouts against six walks. Manwarren has accomplished putting more speed on her fastball.
“She wants the ball, and she wants to compete,” Mai said. “And she is working in the offseason, this is what she loves to do, and letting her handle those innings is like just a comfort for the whole entire team. I think because they just trust her so much. She has put in the work and deserves every bit of success that she gets out there.”
After nine games, Manwarren posted a .548 average, while Castro was at .406 in 32 at-bats. After playing more as a designated player last season, Castro has hit third. Mai said she has “really stepped up.”
Foster carried a .379 average with Harris at .344. Emma Ortiz is at .280, while Serrano has delivered a .265 average. Serrano has played third base.
Garden City stole 39 bases in the first nine games, including 11 by Foster and nine from Harris. That is already more steals than last season, when the Buffs swiped 35 in 20 contests, paced by 11 from Foster. Harris has played first base and batted fourth in the order. Harris showcased talent in the younger ranks and played varsity volleyball as a freshman.
“She’s just grown leaps and bounds simply from the beginning of the year until now, so it’s been really fun to watch her,” Mai said.
Garden City’s entire outfield is new. Gabby Ortiz is in centerfield, Emma Ortiz in left and Ryann Warren is in right field.
“Really been a bright star out there,” Mai said of Emma Ortiz. “She can catch about anything that gets hit out there.”
Kamy Foster has stepped up at catcher. That’s helped Garden City improve its defense. Last season, the Buffs delivered a .897 fielding percentage and nearly three errors a contest. This season, GC has a .945 fielding percentage and 1.5 errors in the first nine games. Garden City’s only losses came against Derby, 10-6, on March 24, and split with Towanda-Circle on March 26.
“She actually isn’t really a catcher coming into this year,” Mai said. “But kind of what we have needed her to do, and she has stepped up and done a great job with handling Brie pitching.”