Tabor baseball aiming for third World Series run

These six All-KCAC returners will anchor the Tabor College baseball team as the Bluejays seek their third consecutive trip to the World Series: (from left)?Greg Turner, Manny DeLeon, Colton Flax, Jerrik Sigg, Michael Baca, Alex Couch. With back-to-back trips to the NAIA World Series in the books for the Tabor College baseball team, the Bluejays will seek to return to the national stage for the third year in a row.

Last year?s team entered KCAC play with only two losses in 21 games. The Bluejays claimed the regular-season title for the fourth-consecutive time with a 22-6 record, then won the KCAC tournament for the second year in a row.

Tabor won the NAIA Opening Round tournament in Bellevue (Neb.), and went 1-2 at the World Series, moving its all-time World Series record to 3-4.

With their nation-best 54 wins?and only 12 losses?the 2015 team became the winningest team in Tabor history.

Coach Mark Standiford, who is entering his eighth year at the helm, was named Coach of the Year.

This year, Tabor ranks fourth in the 2016 NAIA Preseason Top 25 poll, and ranks nationally among the top 20 in 10 categories.

With a majority of last year?s impact players returning on Tabor?s 54-man roster, Standiford is hopeful for the season ahead.

Pitching

Tabor does have holes to fill from last year?s squad, perhaps most noticeably on the mound.

The Bluejay pitching corps sustained a significant loss as junior right-hander Dustin Hurlbutt, an NAIA honorable mention All-American and All-KCAC first team selection, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 16th round of the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Headlining Tabor?s returning pitching staff are seniors Greg Turner and Thomas Longworth. Both bring experience starting and out of the bullpen.

Turner was 5-2 last year with an ERA of 1.20 over 521?3 innings. An All-KCAC honorable mention recipient, he pitched in 16 games and had one save.

Thomas Longworth was 5-0 on the mound last year with an ERA of 4.41 over 342?3 innings. He saw action in 13 games and had one save.

Senior Dylan Algra also returns with experience. He was 5-1 last year with an ERA of 4.46 over 361?3 innings. Additional returners expected to fill increased roles include senior Cedric Rodriguez and junior Jahaziel Cantu.

Newcomers Jesus Brito, a senior transfer from MidAmerica Nazarene, and freshman Colton Moore out of Midlothian, Texas, will also be called upon to pitch.

Catching

Tabor graduated catchers Matt Molbury, an All-KCAC second team pick, and Armando Castillo. Molbury batted .310 over 52 games and was a member of the 2015 Avista-NAIA Baseball All-World Series Team. Castillo batted .248 over 39 games.

Splitting duties behind the plate are juniors Dalton Iveans, who redshirted last year, and Raulier Martinez, a transfer out of Luna Community College.

?Both guys are going to get a chance to play and see who can win it,? Standiford said. ?It?s a position that?s evolving. We need somebody to step up and take control of that, but both are doing a very good job right now.?

Infield

Standiford spoke highly of his infield and stressed the importance of a strong defense.

Tabor will play without All-KCAC second team second baseman Gadiel Baez this year. A leader and anchor on defense, Baez made a diving catch that earned the No. 1 spot on SportsCenter?s Top 10 Plays during Tabor?s World Series loss to Oklahoma Baptist.

Offensively, Baez batted .317 over 55 games.

While Tabor?s infield has some fluidity, senior Michael Baca, an All-KCAC second-team selection a year ago, returns to anchor the defense at shortstop. Baca batted .342 over 65 games as Tabor?s leadoff hitter last year.

Senior Alex Couch returns with experience at both third and first base. A first-team All-KCAC pick in his first year with the Bluejays, Couch batted .411 over 64 games to lead the team. Couch, who was named to the NAIA Baseball Preseason All-America team, provides versatility on the corners, Standiford said.

Junior Colton Flax, a first baseman/designated hitter also returns. Flax earned honorable mention honors in the KCAC last year as a designated hitter. He batted .342 over 54 games.

Replacing Baez at second base is senior Ryan Neufeld.

Joel Frias is one of 25 newcomers to join the squad. The junior out of Hutchinson Community College provides flexibility at second and third.

Outfield

Tabor?s outfield is both strong and deep, Standiford said.

Junior Jerrik Sigg returns as an All-KCAC first team selection and a member of the KCAC Gold Glove team a year ago. Sigg led the team in runs batted in with 54. He batted .342 over 61 games.

Also returning are seniors Manny DeLeon and Brent McClure. DeLeon was a second-team All-KCAC selection last season. He batted .405 over 60 games. McClure batted .263 over 57 games.

Through 10 games this season, DeLeon was batting .400 with 14 hits, including five doubles and three home runs. He ranks second in RBI per game (2) and has 20 RBI, which ranks seventh nationally.

Newcomers to the outfield include juniors Kaden Cline, who redshirted last year; AJ Shaw, a transfer from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock who is Tabor?s leadoff hitter; and Haydon Mahe-Liessmann, a transfer from Yuba Community College.

?The athleticism of our outfield is very good,? Standiford said. ?They?ve been all been swinging the bat well, every one of them. The most difficult thing, I guess, is finding playing time for them, because they all have positives. That?s a big strength of our team is our outfield.?

Strengths

One strength of this year?s team is its speed.

?We can make some things happen offensively,? Standiford said. ?We?ve just got to get on base to make things happen. We?ve scored quite a few runs here early. Hopefully that continues. A lot of that is based on our speed because we can run pretty well.?

Over its first seven games, Tabor outscored its opponents 80-28 and had 21 stolen bases.

Standiford spoke highly of his offense.

?From an offensive standpoint, I feel that we?re very strong,? he said. ?It has the potential to be one of the best offenses that we?ve ever had.?

As a team, Tabor is batting .351 through 10 games, which ranks 11th nationally. The Bluejays ranked third in doubles per game (2.9).

KCAC play

Tabor was picked to finish first in the 2016 KCAC Baseball Coaches? Preseason poll with eight first-place votes and a total of 97 points. Conference newcomer Oklahoma Wesleyan (88 points) and Sterling (85) received the final two first-place votes.

Adding Oklahoma Wesleyan and York has strengthened the conference and provides two automatic bids into postseason play. Both teams have made recent World Series appearances?York in 2013 and OKWU in 2014.

?We have to be one of the top three conferences in the country just by the addition of those teams, so it is a big positive,? Standiford said. ?It?s a challenge. I think it?s going to make us better because we?re going to be tested.?

In order to better prepare for postseason play, the KCAC has introduced more nine-inning games into the regular season this year.

The change will require Tabor to dig deeper into its pitching staff

?It forces us to get that mindset of being able to use your bullpen,? Standiford said. ?They become a bigger factor in a nine-inning game.?

This year?s KCAC format features a four-game, two-day set with one nine-inning and one seven-inning game each day.

Standiford said next year that will probably be reduced to a three-game series.

New facility

Tabor is in the process of constructing the new Lee and Leanna Penner Indoor Baseball Training Facility.

The facility will give the baseball team its own place to work out and will feature a locker room, five turfed cages for hitting and pitching, a new dugout equipped with heaters, a press box, an indoor viewing area, and restroom facilities.

The facility will be finished in stages. The dugout is already being used. The timeline for completion is the end of March, Standiford said, adding that funds are still needed to complete the project.

The building will alleviate some of the practice demands on the CRC.

?Lee (Penner) has really stepped up to the plate and has made it possible for us to have something that is really going to set us apart, in my mind, from a lot of schools,? Standiford said.

Goals

Having made back-to-back trips to the World Series, Standiford said the team?s goal is more than just to return to the national stage.

?I don?t think we?ve ever had the goal of just to get there,? he said. ?Obviously when you get there your first year, it?s a relief because you?ve worked so hard to get to that point, but our goal is to go and win it.?

If we come together, I know we can play with anybody in the country,? Standiford said.

Coming?Tabor (7-3) was scheduled to play a doubleheader at St. Gregory?s Tuesday and will travel to fifth-ranked Oklahoma City for a four-game series Saturday and Sunday.

Tags from the story
Written By
More from Janae Rempel
TC men’s soccer 2-0 for the week
The Tabor College men?s soccer team earned two conference victories last week....
Read More