A glance at the Kansas Conference’s baseball standings trumpeted the importance of Kansas Wesleyan’s doubleheader against Southwestern on Saturday.
The Coyotes began the day in a four-team logjam for second place behind McPherson — KWU, Oklahoma Wesleyan, Tabor and York with four conference losses each.
“You look at the standings and you’re 8-4 and think you’re probably in second place and then there’s three teams with you,” KWU coach Bill Neale said. “You could lose a game and be in sixth place. Every game is important and our guys sensed that too.”
Spurred by stellar pitching and five solo home runs the Coyotes swept the Moundbuilders 5-2 and 10-2 at Dean Evans Stadium. KWU improved to 10-4 in the KCAC and is in fourth place, half a game behind OKWU and Tabor (11-4) for second and half a game ahead of York (10-5). Ottawa and Friends are within striking distance at 8-7.
Nathan Righi (JR/Pekin, Ill.) pitched eight strong innings in the opener and KWU broke through offensively in the seventh and eighth innings. Tyler Triano (SR/Hollister, Calif.), who is resurrecting his career after extensive shoulder surgery a year ago, pitched four solid innings and the Coyotes scored all 10 of their runs in the first four innings of the second game.
The two teams conclude the three-game series a single contest at 1 p.m. Sunday at Evans Stadium.
KWU 5, SOUTHWESTERN 2
Righi and Moundbuilders starter Jaxson Burns dueled on even terms through six scoreless six innings at the start.
KWU finally broke through in the seventh when Jarrett Gable (SR/Colleyville, Texas) hit a one-out homer to left and Cruz Oxford (FR/Peoria, Ariz.) followed one batter later with a blast of his own to left making it 2-0. Southwestern, though, tied it on London Penland’s two-run homer in the top of the eighth.
The Coyotes quickly and emphatically responded in bottom of the eighth when Kendall Foster (SR/Prosper, Texs) obliterated a Burns’ pitch, sending it high and deep over the center field wall. Dusty Sipe followed with a bloop triple down the right field line and Zack Beatty (JR/Maple Park, Ill.) drove him in with a single. Gable’s double scored Beatty.
Righi (7-1) allowed two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts and one walk in eight innings. Ryan Sandoval (SR/El Paso, Texas) retired all three batters he faced in the ninth for his fourth save.
“I don’t think he had his best stuff at the start of the day and he was a little frustrated,” Neale said of Righi. “He usually has a lot of strikeouts and give them credit; they weren’t striking out. He just battled and kept doing the thing as he’s done all year, which is give us a chance to win.”
KWU finished with nine hits – Sipe, Beatty and Gable with two apiece.
Burns was effective keeping KWU’s hitters in tow with off-speed pitches.
“I don’t think he threw 15 fastball the whole game,” Neale said. “He kept throwing slow little curveballs and we’re not used to hitting that speed. We call it throwing under the hitting speed limit and he was doing that, kept us off balance and did a good job.”
KWU 10, SOUTHWESTERN 2
Triano was one of Wesleyan’s top pitcher in 2021 before injuries waylaid him. He pitched early last season before undergoing surgery on his labrum and rotator cuff in March, 2022.
Triano (1-0) allowed two runs on five hits through four innings, striking out three and walking one in gaining the victory Saturday.
“He’s worked his tail off,” Neale said. “It’s one of those injuries where you don’t come back if you’re not diligent about doing your (physical therapy) and everything you’re supposed to. It’s great to see him back out here and see him with his good stuff back.”
Ritter Steinmann (SO/Oroville, Calif.) pitched two hitless innings and Nathan Beers one in relief of Triano.
Sipe’s home run in the first inning gave KWU a 1-0 lead and the Coyotes blew it open with five runs in the second. Gable’s homer made it 2-0 and after two walks and a hit batter Foster cleared the bases with a triple. Sipe followed with a sacrifice fly that scored Foster.
Southwestern scored twice in the top of the third but Oxford’s RBI double and Zach Olson (JR/Red Deer, Alberta)’s run scoring pinch hit single made it 8-2. KWU tacked on two more runs in the fourth on Kevin Esquilin-Cruz (SR/Trujilo Alto, Puerto Rico)’s RBI single and Gable’s sacrifice fly.
Neale was pleased to see Foster swing the bat well again.
“He’s struggled a little bit the last few weeks, I think he’s pressing a little bit,” he said. “(The triple) was a huge hit, it broke the game open, broke the tension a little bit and everyone took a deep breath and relaxed and played good baseball after that. His (home run) in the first game was a huge lift for us.”
Wesleyan had 12 hits in the second game – Foster, Sipe and Haydn Brown (SR/Gardnerville, Nev.) two each. Foster had three RBI and Sipe and Gable two each.