Bluejays ‘prove they belong’ at KCAC tournament

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor College baseball team made it to three games in its first appearance at the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference post-season tournament May 5 and 6 in Wichita.

Playing in near gale-force winds at Westurban Sports Complex, the Bluejays played three close games but came up short in two of them to complete the 2005 season.

On Friday, Tabor faced Ottawa University in an elimination game, with the winner heading to Saturday’s championship matchup with Saint Mary.

Unfortunately for Tabor, the wind knocked down several solid drives to center field and the Bluejays failed to register a single hit or put any runners on base in Ottawa’s 1-0 victory.

Scott Wolf, on the mound for Tabor, allowed only two hits.

The only run in the game came courtesy of two Bluejay errors in the opening inning.

“The guys wanted to play (Ottawa) again, but unfortunately we lost our fourth one-run game to them of the season,” Tabor coach John Sparks said. “We matched up well with them.

“But with the wind blowing in and the infield slow, we just never got anything going,” he added. “Wolf did a great job and pitched well enough for us to win.

“Other than the first inning, we made our plays behind our pitchers and that’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

Friends-Tabor was relegated to the elimination game on Friday, facing defending champion Friends University.

With windy conditions still prevailing, Casey Hillman took to the mound for Tabor, hoping to extend the season by at least one more game.

Hillman did what coach John Sparks hoped for and then some, firing a 2-0, two-hit shutout.

“Hillman pitched an excellent game,” Sparks said. “He was hitting his spots with all of his pitches.”

While Hillman kept the Falcons off the scoreboard, Tabor struggled to find a way onto it, too.

It wasn’t until the fourth inning when catcher Josh Craig singled to get the wheels in motion. With pinch-runner Jeremy Ball on second, Tyson Bauerle delivered a run-scoring single to give the Bluejays a 1-0 lead.

In the sixth inning, Tabor added an insurance run when Grant Brubacher doubled down the right-field line, moved to third on Kevin Peterson’s sacrifice fly, and came home on a wild pitch.

Hillman carried a no-hitter into the bottom of the seventh, but with one out, Friends broke through with consecutive singles.

Hillman retired the final two hitters to eliminate the Falcons and give Tabor its first post-season victory and put them a game away from a berth in the title game.

“We played great defense against Friends and put just enough offense together to get the win,” Sparks said. “It was great knocking the defending conference champion out of the tournament.

“We’ve been trying to win close games all year and we came through with a good win,” Sparks said. “That was a big win for the Tabor College baseball program.”

Ottawa-Fourth-seeded Tabor drew top-seeded Ottawa on Thursday afternoon. With Andy Womack on the hill, the Bluejays took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a solo home run by designated hitter Brian Kimsey.

Ottawa answered with a pair of runs in the third inning off Womack, who allowed just five hits and four earned runs in the game.

“Andy pitched a really good game,” coach John Sparks said. “It was just a great pitchers duel, really.”

Tabor knotted the score at 2 in the top of the fifth inning when Casey Hillman scored after reaching base with a double.

But Ottawa got the decisive pair of runs in the bottom half of the sixth inning, sending Tabor to the loser’s bracket on Friday.

The Bluejays registered just three hits in the game.

“Ottawa got a big hit when they needed it and we had the bases loaded with two outs in our half of the sixth and couldn’t get that big hit,” Sparks said. “It’s kind of like our season-we just needed that one last hit to win the game and couldn’t get it done.”

Tabor, which entered the tournament as the second-best hitting team in the KCAC at .315, collected just nine hits in three games for a .127 average.

On the positive side, the pitching staff came in with a 5.61 earned-run average but allowed just six runs in three games.

Tabor wrapped up its season at 22-31, including an 8-16 KCAC record.

“I think we represented Tabor College well in this tournament,” Sparks said. “It would have been nice to have made it into the championship game, but we showed we deserved to be here.”

Next year looks to be a senior-laden team with high realistic hope for a conference championship, Sparks said.

“We only have a couple of holes to fill and we’ve been hitting the recruiting trail pretty hard,” he said. “Next year should be fun.”

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