Bluejay baseball season off to a hot start

These returning all-conference selections will anchor the Tabor College baseball team this season:?(from left) Alex Mann, Kirk Rocha, Keenan Chanin, Jacob Webb, Grant Silva, Kevin Seeger.The Tabor College baseball team has enjoyed a strong start to the 2014 season.

As of Sunday, Tabor had accrued 28 wins and only five losses?four of which were to teams either nationally ranked or receiving votes?and were riding a 17-game winning streak.

Led by sixth-year coach Mark Standiford, Tabor ranks 14th in the season?s first NAIA Coaches? Top 25 poll released March 25.

Tabor leads the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Confer?ence with a 12-0 record after beginning conference play with sweeps of Saint Mary, Ottawa and Kansas Wesleyan.

Fueling the fire are a number of All-KCAC returnees.

Senior outfielder Kirk Rocha was a unanimous pick for the 2014 preseason team, having been chosen to the All-KCAC first team a year ago after a season in which he batted .368 and drove in 54 runs on 68 hits.

He currently ranks second in NAIA Division I in batting at .495. He ranks fourth in total hits (55) and fifth in total runs scored (40). He ranks sixth in hits per game (1.667). Rocha has already earned KCAC Player of the Week honors twice this season.

Last week, Rocha was named the NAIA Baseball National Player of the Week.

Senior outfielder Grant Silva joins Rocha on the preseason team, having been a first-team selection a year ago. Silva hit .373 last year and drove in 28 runs on 66 hits. He currently ranks 10th in total stolen bases (22).

Also on the preseason team is senior pitcher Alex Mann, who also was a first-team pick last year. Mann threw 29 strikeouts over 302?3 innings pitched, and had an earned-run average of 0.88. He was 5-0 as a pitcher last season and led the KCAC in saves with nine. In 17 innings this season, Mann has 12 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.12. He is currently 2-0.

The Bluejays return three additional all-conference players.

Senior first baseman Kevin Seeger was a second-team pick a year ago. He batted .335 and drove in 53 runs on 58 hits. He ranks sixth in home runs with eight so far this season.

Senior outfielder Keenan Chanin received honorable mention a year ago, after batting .316 and driving in 18 runs on 30 hits. He currently ranks 33rd in total stolen bases (17).

Sophomore pitcher Jacob Webb earned Freshman of the Year honors. He recorded 50 strikeouts over 55 innings with an ERA of 1.47. His record was 4-4.

Webb has already shown success on the mound this season. He has thrown 79 strikeouts in 56 innings to surpass last season?s total and rank first in total strikeouts. He leads Tabor with an ERA of 0.96 and is 7-1 this season.

Webb has set and re-set the Tabor record for strikeouts in a game, first with 14 against Saint Mary March 17, then 15 against Ottawa March 22. David Alexander set the previous school record with 13 in 1990.

Webb has earned KCAC Pitcher of the Week honors twice this season. Last week, he was named the NAIA National Pitcher of the Week.

In addition to Webb, pitchers who have thrown more than 35 innings so far this season include senior Junior Mustain (6-1, 1.53 ERA) and juniors Jean Acevedo (4-2, 4.43 ERA) and Russell Longworth (6-1, 3.27 ERA).

The Bluejays lost a number of pitchers to graduation last year, including four who threw more than 45 innings: Josh Stone, Matt Lambert, Anthony Mendoza and Brian Kowal.

Other players who have contributed in 23 or more games this season are seniors Troy Torres (third base), CJ DeDeaux (catcher) and Shaun Reid (second base), juniors Gadiel Baez (shortstop) and Pete Lelich (outfield, catcher), and freshman Colton Flax (designated hitter, utility).

Last year, Tabor was the KCAC regular season co-champion with Sterling at 24-4. The Bluejays lost to Sterling in the championship game, but still received an at-large bid to the NAIA playoffs, where they went 2-2 to finish with a 40-16 season record.

Sterling (7.5, 26-11 this season) is receiving votes in the Top 25 poll. Friends ranks 22nd nationally at 8-4, 25-10.

?I think the conference as a whole is better this year, so it?s going to be tough to come back and repeat, but I think we have a team that can do it,? Standiford said.

The little things will fuel the team?s success, he said.

?We?ve got to be able to execute at the plate, we?ve got to be able to pitch and throw strikes early in the count, and we?ve got to play defense,? he said. ?From an athletic standpoint, I feel that we can compete pretty much with anybody nationally. It boils down to little things in order to win those games.?

Tabor was scheduled to take a hiatus from conference play Tuesday against Saint Gregory?s University and 2nd-ranked Oklahoma Baptist University before resuming KCAC competition Friday and Saturday against 22nd-ranked Friends.

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