Bluejays lose in NAIA Opening Round championship

The 13th-ranked Tabor College baseball team’s season came to a close Wednesday with a 9-6 loss to Missouri Baptist in the championship game of the NAIA Opening Round Hutchinson bracket.

The Spartans were the only team that beat Tabor in the tournament, having secured a 10-5 victory over the Bluejays Monday.

In between its two losses, Tabor defeated Jamestown, 9-5; Concordia, 12-11; and Clarke, 8-7; to work its way through the loser’s bracket to the championship.

Facing Missouri Baptist a second time, Tabor fell behind early as the Spartans scored seven of their nine runs in the first two innings. The Bluejays’ biggest inning was a four-hit, three-run bottom of the second inning in which Kyle James hit a two-run double and the Spartans made one error.

Jake Jones hit a solo home run in the third inning, bringing Tabor within 7-4.

Missouri Baptist scored one run in the fourth inning, then Tabor plated two runs in the sixth off Brent McClure’s two-RBI double to make it 8-6. Those were Tabor’s final runs, and Missouri Baptist added a final run in the ninth.

“We had a chance, I thought, to come back,” coach Mark Standiford said. “We just couldn’t quite get the big hit there late. Then, once they brought their closer in, he’s pretty good. He’s one of the best in the country.”

Jones was 3-for-5 at-bat and had one RBI. McClure and James each drove in a pair of runs.

Jordan Harris absorbed the pitching loss. In 32⁄3 innings, he gave up nine hits and eight runs (seven earned). He walked two batters and struck out no one.

Tabor 8, Clarke 7

NAIA Opening Round, Wednesday

To get to the championship, Tabor eliminated the top-seeded Crusaders.

The Bluejays scored all eight runs in the sixth inning after Clarke built a 3-0 lead through five innings.

Tabor recorded eight hits in the half-inning, including a two-run single by Colton Flax, an RBI double by Kyle James and a two-run double by AJ Shaw.

Clarke scored four runs off three hits in the top of the eighth inning before the Bluejays ended the threat.

Haydon Mahe-Liessmann was 3-for-4 at-bat and had one RBI. Shaw was 3-for-5 and had two RBIs.

“I was very proud of the way we came back,” coach Mark Standiford said. “We did have to hang on. I thought we got some key hits, and obviously, that (sixth) inning was big.”

Nathan Arruda earned the pitching win. In 71⁄3 innings, he gave up six hits and five runs (all earned). He walked three batters and struck out five.

Jordan Harris was credited with the save.

Tabor 12, Concordia 11

NAIA Opening Round, Tuesday

The Bluejays built a 10-5 lead through six innings, scoring two runs in the third inning, then enjoying a five-hit, five-run fourth inning keyed by Colton Flax’s three-run home run and Joel Frias’ two-run bomb.

Concordia, meanwhile, scored one run in the second, three in the fourth and one in the fifth to close the gap to 7-5 before Braxon Byfield highlighted the three-run sixth inning with a two-run home run after Frias led off with a triple.

But a seventh-inning mental lapse at second base loaded the bases instead of securing out three for Tabor, and the Bulldogs plated three runs in the half-inning after that.

Things escalated in the top of the eighth inning. In a half-inning bookended by strikeouts, three runs scored off three wild pitches. The frame also include two hit batters, a single, a fly out and two walks. By the time the dust settled, Concordia had taken the lead, 11-10.

The Bluejays left the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth, then Nathan Arruda worked around a ninth-inning single and walk to hold the Bulldogs at bay.

Down to its final three outs, Tabor kept the line moving. Braxon Byfield, Kyle James and AJ Shaw hit back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases. Brent McClure reached base on the fielder’s choice, allowing the tying run to score. Jordan Harris was hit by a pitch to load the bases, then Jake Jones hit a walk-off RBI single, redeeming the seventh-inning slip-up.

“We made some mistakes, allowed them to get back into it,” coach Mark Standiford said. “But the great thing about this, I told them at the end, we had a lot of reasons to quit after what we did—I think it was the seventh inning—but then we found a way to get past it, showed some heart.”

Tabor recorded 22 hits. Jones was 5-for-6 at-bat and had one RBI. Colton Flax drove in three runs.

Arruda earned the pitching win. He threw one inning of scoreless relief.

Tabor 9, Jamestown 5

NAIA Opening Round, Tuesday

Bluejay starter Edwin Suarez settled in after being touched for a first-inning, two-run home run. After giving up two hits in the first inning, he did not surrender another hit until the fifth inning. The Jimmies used an error to scratch across one run in the third inning.

By that point, however, Tabor had taken the lead with a five-hit, four-run top of the second inning. Kyle James keyed the frame with a two-run single that ended Jamestown’s starter’s day after 11⁄3 innings of work.

Leading, 4-3, through three innings, Tabor scored another run in the fourth inning when Brent McClure hit an RBI single. The Bluejays plated three more runs in the fifth inning off three hits and an error. Mahe-Liessmann hit an RBI triple, then scored on a wild throw.

The Jimmies scored one run on a passed ball in the fifth inning. Colton Moore entered in relief and secured all three outs in the frame.

A sixth-inning home run narrowed the gap to 8-5, then AJ Shaw hit an eighth-inning solo home run.

Four Bluejays recorded two hits: Jake Jones, Flax, John Izquierdo and Mahe-Liessmann. Flax, Mahe-Liessmann and Kyle James each had two RBIs.

Suarez earned the pitching win. In four innings, he gave up three hits and four runs (two earned). He walked six batters and struck out two. Moore threw five innings of relief.

“I thought (Edwin) did well,” coach Mark Standiford said. “He’s gotten better every time out, which is good. When he gets to the point to where he can command the strike zone, he’s going to be really, really good.”

Missouri Baptist 10, Tabor 5

NAIA Opening Round, Monday

Tabor lost its first-round game despite out-hitting the Spartans, 12-11.

The Bluejays committed four errors. Only six of Missouri Baptist’s runs were earned.

“We came out tight, there’s no doubt,” coach Mark Standiford said. “We had some plays we should have made. We had opportunities to really have some big innings that we didn’t. We got down early on errors and made it tough to where it kind of changes your game plan a little bit.”

It was a 1-1 game after one inning as Jordan Harris hit an RBI single, then the Spartans’ leadoff hitter launched the first pitch he saw over the left field fence.

The Spartans scored two runs off two hits and an error in the second inning before Brent McClure brought Tabor within 3-2 with a third-inning solo home run.

The Spartans, however, scored four runs off three hits and an error in the bottom half of the inning, then extended their lead, 10-2, with a fourth-inning three-run home run. Tabor made two errors.

Colton Flax hit a three-run home run in the top of the fifth inning, bringing it to the final, five-run spread.

Tabor recorded three hits over the final four innings, leaving the bases loaded in the top of the seventh.

AJ Shaw was 3-for-4 at-bat. Flax drove in three runs.

Jagger Harjo sustained the pitching loss. In 21⁄3 innings, he gave up four hits and seven runs (four earned). He walked five batters and struck out no one.

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