ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Hope that late-season momentum would carry them to post-season success proved futile as Tabor College lost a pair of one-run games at Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament last week.
Although the Bluejays played competitively, their season ended with a 19-27 record.
“It’s hard to end your season on a pair of close games like that,” coach John Sparks said.
In the opener, Tabor lost to Saint Mary, 5-4.
Tyler McKim got the starting nod for Tabor and pitched a complete game.
“He threw well,” Sparks said.
But not well enough.
Two hit batters, two singles and a Tabor’s only fielding error of the tournament combined for a quick 3-0 Spire lead.
The Bluejays whittled the lead to 3-2 in the third inning when J.D. Poplin walked with one out and scored on a Chance Miles two-run home run.
Saint Mary extended its lead to 5-2 in the fourth when, with two outs, the Spires sandwiched a pair of singles around a pair of walks.
“In both of their big innings, we helped them out, and then they were able to come up with the big hit,” Sparks said. “We had a couple opportunities of our own to go ahead but just couldn’t do it.”
Tabor cut the lead to 5-3 in the sixth when Casey Cooper singled, took second on a Tyson Bauerle sacrifice and scored on a single by Eric LiCalsi.
A last-gasp rally in the ninth looked promising. Poplin was hit by a pitch to lead off, Kevin Peterson singled and Miles was plunked to load the bases.
Poplin scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Casey Hillman, but the rally ended when LiCalsi grounded out.
Tabor managed eight hits, including a home run and a double by Miles.
“We saw their best pitcher and he’s probably been the best guy in the conference this year,” Sparks said. “It was a good battle, but we just came up short.”
In the losers bracket, Tabor lost to Friends University, 12-11.
After Tabor scored a pair of runs in the first inning on a Josh Craig double and Kevin Peterson home run, the wheels fell off the wagon.
Friends proceeded to chase Phil Unruh from the game before the Peabody junior finished one inning. When the carnage ended, Friends led, 7-2.
Reliever Nick Villalovos added to Tabor’s misery, allowing three additional runs as the Falcons soared to a 10-2 lead after two innings.
Tabor began a methodical comeback in the third inning with three runs. After Poplin singled and Peterson walked with two outs, Miles blasted a home run to cut the lead to 10-5.
After a 1-2-3 fourth inning, Tabor went back to work in the fifth inning. A walk, error and a Peterson single loaded the bases before Miles was hit by a pitch to make the score 10-6.
Hillman then launched a 1-0 pitch over the wall for a game tying grand slam.
The Bluejays got over the hump one inning later when Jeremy Ball went yard to give Tabor an 11-10 lead.
Meanwhile, Josh Letourneau was holding the Falcons at bay, hurling six strong innings.
But a two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning gave the Falcons all the runs they needed for win.
Sparks said his seniors will be difficult to replace.
“It’s a tough group to say good-bye to, especially the way this season ended,” he said. “This group has had its struggles and been inconsistent, but they meant a lot of me and to this baseball program.”
Sparks, already on the recruiting trail, said next season will be a challenge.
“We’re trying to recruit a little more team speed,” he said. “It’s kind of scary and exciting at the same time. We have a lot of holes to fill, but we have a chance to rebuild and do some things.”
Nine Bluejays earn post-season honors
Although the team record didn’t meet expectations, nine members of the Tabor College baseball team received All-KCAC recognition this weekend.
Earning first-team honors were senior outfielder Kevin Peterson and senior designated hitter Chance Miles.
Peterson led Bluejays in batting average (.443), home runs (13) and runs batted in (37). Miles hit .390 with nine home runs and drove in 34.
Earning second-team honors were senior Casey Hillman at shortstop, junior infielder J.D. Poplin, senior catcher Josh Craig and junior pitcher Jeremy Sneed.
Receiving honorable mention were senior first baseman Nick Green, senior outfielder Casey Cooper and junior pitcher Tyler McKim.