Bluejay baseball team peaking at right time of season

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Tabor College kept its baseball post-season hopes alive with a pair of victories in Wichita Wednesday over the Friends Falcons.

Excellent pitching and fielding combined with clutch hitting gave the Bluejays 4-1 and 5-0 victories.

“It’s nice to see us get two really clutch pitching performances like that,” coach John Sparks said. “And we played really well defensively behind outstanding pitching.”

In the opener, Jeremy Sneed, who’s proven to be Tabor’s most effective starter over the past month, allowed only six hits and one earned run while striking out four during his complete-game victory.

“(Jeremy) has just gotten better as the year has gone on,” Sparks said. “He’s been keeping hitters off balance and pretty much given us a chance to win each time he’s on the mound.”

Tabor committed only one error behind Sneed.

“When we play that kind of defense, it’s nice because we don’t have to put so much pressure on our offense to come up with huge days,” Sparks said.

The game didn’t begin will for the Bluejays when Friends’ Zadoc Christensen led off with a home run.

The score remained 1-0 the way until the third inning. Tabor’s Jeremy Ball led off with a single and advanced to second base on a Josh Craig sacrifice. After Ball took third base on a wild pitch, J.D. Poplin drove him home with a single to tie the score. Kevin Peterson then broke the deadlock with a run-scoring double.

The Bluejays added two more runs in the fifth inning when Poplin singled and scored on a Peterson two-run home run to stake the Bluejays to a 4-1 lead.

“Peterson’s home run was the big hit of the first game,” Sparks said. “That one kind of put the game out of reach for us.”

That’s all the offense Sneed needed as the junior struck out the side in the seventh inning to preserved the 4-1 victory.

The Bluejays had nine hits, led by Poplin with three, Casey Cooper with two hits and Peterson with two hits and three runs batted in.

As well as Sneed threw in the opener, Phil Unruh may have thrown even better in Game 2.

Unruh allowed only two base hits-singles in innings 3 and 7-in his complete-game victory.

“We kind of hoped in the progression of things this is what would happen with Phil,” Sparks said. “He’s obviously had his struggles, but he had a real nice outing against KU and then he came in and shut down Saint Mary last week to get the save.

“You could see we’ve been working on some things with him mechanically and those things have really helped him out-his confidence has just continued to go through the roof,” he added.

The Bluejays broke a scoreless tie on the second inning. Cooper led off with a single and Tyson Bauerle walked. After both runners advanced on a Eric LiCalsi sacrifice, Ball singled to score Cooper.

Hanging on to its precarious one-run lead, the Bluejays ended the suspense by scoring four runs in the fourth inning. With one out, Ball was hit by a pitch and scored on a Craig double. Poplin promptly popped a two-run homer to push the lead to 4-0.

“Poplin’s home run was big at the point he hit it,” Sparks said. “The way Phil was pitching, that hit kind of put it out of reach.”

Peterson and Chance Miles both drew walks before Peterson scored on a Casey Hillman single to account for Tabor’s 5-0 lead and eventual victory.

Tabor played error-free ball while its offense produced eight hits led by Hillman with three and Poplin with two.

Coming-The Bluejays defeated Kansas Wesleyan 9-8 on Monday to earn a trip to Thursday’s KCAC post-season tournament played in Wichita at West Urban Field. Opponent and game time is to be determined. Tabor stands at 19-25 overall and finishes KCAC action at 9-15.

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