Tabor has posted a 3-3 record against conference opponents after finishing 9-15 in the KCAC in 2007.
Tabor swept Ottawa and stole a game from Friends—picked second in the conference—then lost back-to-back games against Sterling Saturday.
But even with the recent dry spell, Tabor’s start to the conference schedule has been at least as strong as last year’s.
The Bluejay offense has led the charge, scoring 75 runs during a five-game winning streak that began the day after an 8-1 loss at University of Kansas and ended in an 11-1 loss in the second half of the double-header with Friends.
The win streak matched Tabor’s best of 2007 and the team’s run production has been other-worldly late in games.
“We may be young and inexperienced in some areas but I feel like this team will make up for this lack of experience with the character and work ethic that they bring every day,” Newhard said back in January
Strengths and weaknesses
The team—particularly the offense and it’s penchant for come-from-behind wins—has visibly vindicated Newhard’s expectation at times so far.
But a five-game stretch earlier in the season, during which Tabor scored only 17 runs, reflected the downside of relying on late caps—rather than efficient and effective defense—to win games.
Newhard said that with his team’s pitching staff straining to keep games close, the Bluejays may not be able to find ways to win without their offense.
“I’ve got to be honest—if we’re not going to score five runs in a game, we’re probably not going to be able to win because we just don’t have the kind of pitching that can shut other teams down,” he said.
“Ideally, if we threw strikes and minimized the number of walks, hit batters, and other free baserunners, that would help us out quite a bit.”
Tabor’s overall record is 10-6 when scoring five or more runs, but 0-9 when scoring four or fewer.
Newhard said that while solid offense is a must for this team to win games, cleaning up their act defensively would contribute greatly to Tabor’s ability to break out of winless streaks.
“When we talk about defense with the team, it’s ‘protect the baseball,’” Newhard said.
“I might be repeating myself, but when you’re giving a team four and five outs in an inning, you have to get better defensively,” he said.
Perhaps the single-best performance through the first 25 games has been that of senior catcher Chris Brown, who has been outstanding both offensively and defensively.
“He’s a tremendous leader, and not only by example,” Newhard said. “He works hard, he’s a vocal guy and he’s a man of high character.
“He’s a fixture in the lineup and he’s leading the conference in RBI,” Newhard added. “He’s had key, critical hits for us. He’s always on base and gives us a great at bat every time he comes up.”
Brown is hitting .343 with a .582 slugging percentage—both the third-highest on the team. Brown leads the Bluejays with four home runs.
“Defensively, as far as I’ve seen this year, he’s one of the best guys behind the plate,” Newhard said. “He works well with our pitching staff, receives the ball well, has a great arm.”
Brown is one of two Bluejays returning from last season with all-conference honors. He was named to the second team.
Pitching has not been a strength in recent years, but three hurlers remain key to the team’s fortunes.
Freshman Tyler Suderman has done double duty for the Bluejays as one of the team’s premier hitters and as a workhorse on the mound.
“Tyler has the most tools offensively, in terms of sheer offensive talent,” Newhard said. “He’s got great bat-speed and can hit for power. He can drive the ball and he has given us a lot in the middle of our lineup,” Newhard said.
Suderman is second on the team in average (.385) and first in slugging (.692). A red-shirt freshman, Suderman has been Tabor’s best on the mound.
“He’s given us a chance to compete whenever he’s in there,” Newhard said. “He throws a lot of strikes and he uses three pitches to get strikes when he’s on.Tyler has the best fastball of anybody on the team, and when his breaking ball and change up are working, that makes him really effective.”
Suderman leads the team in wins (3) and innings pitched (25.2).
Andrew Cook has the staff’s lowest earned-run average (6.63) through four starts and has collected two wins. When not on the mound, Cook can usually be found backing up first base.
“Cook has had a quality start just about every time he goes out to the mound,” Newhard said. “We feel confident as a team that he’s going to do a great job of competing.”
Travis Schafer leads the staff in appearances (8) and is, apart from Cook, the team’s only other returning pitcher.
“Travis has been very valuable out of the bullpen, especially when we’ve got behind in games early. He’s been able to keep the other team from tacking on additional runs a lot of the time. Maybe the best testament to him is he can get guys out even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.”
To date, 10 Bluejays have pitched in two or more games.
Infield and outfield
The infield returns two players from last year’s squad. Shortstop Jordan Lago and third baseman Tyler Sizemore are seniors.
“They anchor the left side of our infield, and they bring a lot of experience to the table,” Newhard said. “They’re both gritty guys who are going to get the most out of their ability.
“Both are fixtures at the top of our lineup, and have been solid at the plate,” he added. “Tyler provides more power and Jordan is more of a situational hitter, but they’re both key to our game.”
The right side of the infield has been the province of dual-position players.
The outfielders may be the team’s strongest group.
“They cover a lot of ground. Alfred Wilson, Dustin Dick, Eric LiCalsi, Ryan Boucher—all four have played significantly for us, and all four have done well at the plate,” Newhard said. “These are guys who use their speed defensively and also wreck some havoc when they get on base.
“Boucher, particularly, has been a bright spot,” Newhard said. “Sometimes you don’t know exactly what you’ll get from a freshman, and he’s really taken advantage of the opportunity.”
Tabor played a single nine-inning nonconference game against Manhattan Christian in Hillsboro last Monday and resumed KCAC play with a doubleheader against powerhouse Bethany (16-2, 2-0) Tuesday.
The Bluejays travel to Saint Mary today, then get four days to prepare for Monday’s trip to Salina for a doubleheader at Kansas Wesleyan.