Kansas Wesleyan hopes of winning their weekend baseball series against archrival Bethany appeared gone with the wind.
Back-to-back four-run uprisings had given the Swedes a 9-3 lead after 3½ innings Sunday afternoon at Dean Evans Stadium, but Trey Lopez (SR/Burlington, Wash.) and his Coyote teammates were far from finished.
KWU outscored Bethany 17-1 over the ensuing 5 and two-thirds innings, rallying for a wild 20-10 victory – the game called in the eighth inning because of the run rule. The Coyotes scored seven runs in the sixth inning and eight more in eighth en route to their 11th victory in their last 12 games and 15th in the last 17.
“It just shows we’re in a game no matter what,” said Lopez, who led the incredible comeback with five hits (5 for 6) and six RBIs. “We know what we’re capable of and we know that if there’s still outs and innings in a game we’re still able to fight and we came together.”
“The players and the leaders in our dugout took it upon themselves to make sure their heads were still in it and that we knew what our offense could do,” said KWU coach Bill Neale, who notched career victory No. 201 after getting the 200th Saturday. “It’s the third game of the series, you see teams’ bullpens and you never know what might happen.”
What happened Sunday was a comeback for the ages.
It started in the bottom of the fourth inning when Lopez, whose two-run homer in the first inning gave KWU a 2-0 lead, singled in Sisipako Vehikite (JR/Santa Clara, Calif.) to make it 9-4.
Reliever Dylan Epke (FR/Wichita, Kan.) (2-0) shut down Bethany’s attack in the fifth and sixth innings and the Coyotes took control in the bottom of the sixth. Two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases and Haydn Brown (SR/Gardnerville, Nev.) drove in the first two runs with a single, making it 9-6 and ending the day for Bethany starter Keyvan Grenald. William Dryburgh (SO/St. Joseph, Mo.) scored on relief pitcher Taylor Grider’s wild pitch and Lopez’s RBI single that scored Brown cut the deficit to 9-8.
Bethany got a run back in the top of the seventh, but the Coyotes upped the ante to 12-10 in the bottom half of the inning on Lopez’s third RBI single that scored Vehikite.
The Coyotes ended it with their eighth inning explosion.
Dalton Bishop (JR/Colorado Springs, Colo.) led off with a walk and scored on Austin Cross (JR/Montgomery, Texas)’ double making it 13-10. KWU loaded the bases with one out and Tristan Devane (FR/Frostproof, Fla.) scored when Spencer Keane (JR/Palm Springs, Calif.) reached on a fielder’s choice. Lopez drove in his sixth run with a single for a 15-10 lead. Josh Sandoval singled to short, and Keane dashed home on an error by Bethany’s first baseman that made it 16-10.
Triano’s single scored Lopez for a 17-10 advantage and Bishop ended it with a three-run homer to center, setting off a wild celebration.
The game was sweet redemption for Lopez who was 0-for-5 against Hastings Tuesday and 0-for-8 with three strikeouts in Saturday’s doubleheader.
“Seeing (Neale) kept me in the lineup and everybody trusted me and I’m always going to give my all to the team,” Lopez said. “It happens but you’ve got to improve the next day and it showed.”
“Trey’s been great for all year and hitting in that three-hole spot you’re going to get pitched tough, and he’s handled it well and is going to continue to hit in that spot,” Neale said.
The Coyotes had 15 hits in the game – Lopez’s five and Brown, Sandoval and Triano with two each. Triano drove in four and Vehikite scored four times.
Hunter Roe drove in six runs on a pair of three-run homers for Bethany.
Neale employed six pitchers – starter Kaden Sitzman (SR/McCook, Neb.) and relievers Ethan Wilson (JR/Thackerville, Okla.), Ben Jackson, Tyler Davis (FR/The Woodlands, Texas) and Branden Voytko (JR/El Paso, Texas), who pitched a hitless eighth inning and got his eighth save.
Lopez said beating Bethany was a primary objective in 2021.
“One of our team goals this year was to beat Bethany, you’ve got to do anything you can to beat this team and it showed today,” he said.
“This is an important series for not only our team but the school, the community so there’s some importance behind it,” he said. “I was probably a little more emotional out there (coaching) third base than I normally am because this means a lot to a lot of people outside of us.”
Neale was still relishing the Coyotes’ 7-2 victory in Saturday’s second game – his 200th career win at KWU.
“It’s always good to get those that have two zeroes on the end of it,” he said. “It makes you think about all the players and coaches that have played for you and coached with you. It gives you a chance to think back.
“It’s been awesome here; I love it here. I told (KWU) President (Matt) Thompson I hope to have other milestones here.”
The Coyotes play Sterling in a single nine-inning game at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Sterling in their next outing.