Bluejays eke out spot in post-season tourney

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College baseball team played host to Saint Mary University Saturday afternoon with their post-season life at stake.

When the dust settled, the Bluejays had split with the Spires. Thanks to a Friends’ sweep of Sterling, though, Tabor squeezed into its first KCAC post-season tournament.

“I told the guys all along these last four weeks that the toughest part was to get in to the tournament,” coach John Sparks said. “When you’ve never done something before, it just seems like it’s the toughest thing to do. We got in by the skin of our teeth.”

In the opener against Saint Mary, Tabor picked up two runs in the third inning on singles by Nick Green and Grant Brubacher. A Kevin Peterson single scored both runners to give Tabor the early lead.

Tabor added three runs in the fourth when Tyson Bauerle was hit by a pitch and Josh Craig singled.

After Bauerle scored on a Tanner Monhollon single, both Jeremy Ball-who ran for Craig-and Monhollon scored on a double to right-center to put Tabor up 5-0.

Tabor starter Casey Hillman, meanwhile, was working on a two-hit shutout heading into the fifth inning.

But in the fifth, the wheels fell off the Bluejay wagon as Saint Mary scored nine runs on six hits, three walks and two hit batters.

“I have one word for you-implosion,” Sparks said. “It was one of those deals where it seemed like everything went wrong and before we knew it, it was a completely different game.”

When the dust settled, Tabor was on the losing end of an 18-6 score, putting its playoff chances on life support.

Saint Mary pounded out 14 hits and benefitted from six runs batted in by designated hitter Cory Garven.

Hillman took the loss, allowing nine earned runs in 42/3 innings.

Desperately needing a victory in the second game for any chance of post-season play, Scott Wolf took the hill for Tabor.

Unfortunately, momentum was still wearing Spire blue and gold as Saint Mary opened the game with three runs on four hits.

Tabor cut the lead to 3-1 in its first at-bat when Brubacher singled, stole second and scored on Hillman’s single.

After Saint Mary went up 4-1 in the third inning, Tabor cut it to 4-2 in the fourth.

Trailing 5-2 into the bottom of the fifth, the Bluejays tied the game with three runs on three hits, including a Tyson Bauerle double.

Andy Womack relieved Wolf in the sixth and held the Spires hitless through the next three innings.

That effort set up the heroic efforts of Monhollon. With two outs and nobody on base, Monhollon blasted a walk-off home run over the right-field fence to give the Bluejays a 6-5 victory.

“I was really proud of our guys,” Sparks said. “We did some boneheaded things in both games, but one thing we didn’t do was quit.

“We could have very easily done that because our chances of making the post-season tournament after losing that first game were pretty slim.”

With the split, Tabor’s record moved to 21-29 overall and 8-16 in KCAC play.

Needing a Friends sweep of Sterling, the Bluejays huddled around a cellphone with the caller watching the game in Wichita. A 10-inning Falcon victory pushed the Bluejays into the tournament.

“If we put together three solid games, all of a sudden we’re the champs and heading to regionals,” Sparks said with a smile.

Kansas Wesleyan-Facing a near must-win situation, Tabor dropped a pair of games to Kansas Wesleyan in Salina on Saturday, 3-1 and 7-3.

In the opener, Casey Hillman pitched effectively for Tabor, allowing only three earned runs on seven hits through six innings.

But Tabor struggled on offense, managing only six hits in seven innings. Only in the sixth inning did they have more than one hit.

“We just didn’t string stuff together,” a disappointed coach John Sparks said. “Hillman pitched well and we played pretty solid defense, but it turned out to be a disappointing day for us.”

A Bluejay double play got Hillman out of a jam in the first inning, but Wesleyan didn’t squander its opportunity in the second inning.

After Hillman hit the lead-off batter to open the inning, a walk and two singles combined to push across a pair of runs for a 2-0 KW lead.

No one scored again until the fifth inning, when the Coyotes used a pair of singles and a sacrifice to extend their lead to 3-0.

The Bluejay bats continued to struggle until Nick Green broke up the shutout with a leadoff home run in the top of the sixth. But that was all the runs Tabor was able to score.

Brian Kimsey collected two of Tabor’s six hits, including a fourth inning double to the right-center field gap.

With victory in Game 2 all the more important, Sparks called on starting pitcher Andy Womack. Womack lasted 42/3 innings, allowing nine hits and four earned runs.

Tabor grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Kimsey walked with one out, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a Coyote throwing error.

Wesleyan tied the game in the bottom of the inning courtesy of three base hits and took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning after a leadoff double set the table.

Tabor answered in the top of the fifth with a pair of runs on three hits and an error.

Grant Brubacher, last week’s Co-KCAC Player of the Week, and Hillman crossed the plate for Tabor, who grabbed a 3-2 lead.

But that advantage was short-lived as the Coyotes answered with four runs in the fifth and a single run in the sixth to capture the 7-3 victory.

“We played pretty well in the second game and hit the ball better, but we’re still having trouble stringing them together,” Sparks said.

Tabor finished with seven hits while the Coyotes accumulated 12 in a game marred by the ejection of Sparks along with four other Bluejays.

“It turned into quite a fiasco,” Sparks said simply.

Coming-Having earned its first appearance in post-season play, Tabor will travel to Wichita Thursday to battle top-seeded Ottawa at 4 p.m. on the West Urban fields. The Bluejays went 0-4 against the Braves this season, but three of those four losses were by one run.

The double-elimination tournament continues through Saturday in Wichita.

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