Nathan Righi (JR/Pekin, Ill.) and his Kansas Wesleyan teammates did not panic when they fell behind at the start of the game because they knew it was just the start.
Bethany hitters hit two home runs – the first on the game’s opening pitch – and led 3-0 after half an inning. No sweat, though.
The Coyotes tied the game in the second inning and pulled away in the sixth and seventh innings en route to a 14-4 Kansas Conference run-rule victory Friday afternoon at Dean Evans Stadium.
KWU improved to 14-5, 2-0 in the KCAC, and has won five in a row and 11 of its last 12. Bethany fell to 3-11 and 0-2.
Starter Nathan Righi, who has been one of the Coyotes’ top pitchers in early going, surrendered a home run, single and home run to the first three Swede batters before gaining his stride. He allowed one run on four hits over the next five innings then stepped aside for Ritter Steinmann (SO/Oroville, Calif.), who pitched a hitless seventh inning.
Righi (5-1) allowed four runs on eight hits with eight strikeouts and one walk in six innings.
“It wasn’t like he was making terrible pitches; they came out ready to go,” KWU coach Bill Neale said of Righi. “He wants to be perfect every pitch, he wants to throw a no-hitter, he wants to give up no runs.
“When he gave up three in the first it was ‘oh, no.’ We just had to tell him ‘hey, we’re fine, you’re fine.’ He knew it too, he knew our offense was going to pick him up and we did.”
Indeed. The Coyotes battered five Bethany pitchers for 12 hits and were the beneficiaries of seven walks, three hit batters and four Swede errors.
“I told them when a team makes an error or walks someone and gives you something the good teams, the elite teams, will make them pay for it,” Neale said. “That’s what we did today and busted things open.
“There have been times in the past when we didn’t do that, we didn’t take advantage of a lead-off walk, an error so I think that’s where we’re turning the corner a little bit.”
Kevin Esquilin-Cruz (SR/Trujilo Alto, Puerto Rico)’s infield single drove in a run and Dusty Sipe’s two-run single tied the game at 3 in the second inning after the rough start.
Trailing 4-3 in the fifth inning Diego Solis (SO/El Paso, Texas) walked. A balk sent courtesy runner Coulson Riggs (FR/Piedmont, Okla.) to second, who then stole third and scored the tying run on Jarrett’s Gable ground out.
KWU took a 7-4 lead with three runs in sixth inning on two hits – Zack Beatty (JR/Maple Park, Ill.)’s double driving in one – two Bethany errors and a hit batter.
The Coyotes ended it with seven runs in the seventh on three hits, four walks – three with the bases loaded – and another error. Gable’s sacrifice fly drove in the 12th run of the game; Esquilin-Cruz followed with an RBI single for the 13th run and Will Dryburgh ended it with an RBI single. Esquilin-Cruz began the inning with a lead-off double.
Esquilin-Cruz, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, had three hits as did Dryburgh, the team’s leadoff hitter. Zach Olson (JR/Red Deer, Alberta) added two hits. Sipe, Beatty, Gable and Esquilin-Cruz drove in two runs apiece.
“I wish we did a little better job hitting early on,” Neale said. “We were out front of stuff and pulling things and it was a great day to drive the ball to right-center and we didn’t do that. But we got in a groove later.”
The Coyotes and Swedes play a doubleheader Saturday starting at noon at Evans Stadium.