Diego Fisher (SR/Hollister, Calif.) was “just looking for anything that I could do damage on” when he came to bat with the bases loaded in the both of the seventh inning Sunday afternoon.
Kansas Wesleyan had taken a 6-5 lead over Iowa Wesleyan with two runs in the seventh inning but the outcome was still hanging in the balance.
Fisher found precisely what he hoping for, a hanging curveball from IWU relief pitcher Joey Withers. Fisher quickly turned on the pitch and drove it high over the right field wall for a grand slam that propelled the Coyotes to a 13-5 victory in their final non-conference game of the season at Dean Evans Stadium.
They appeared dead in the water against IWU reliever Pedro Ramirez who relieved starting pitcher Jackson Van Roeckel in the second inning. KWU rocked Van Roeckel for two runs in the first and two in the second on back-to-back homers from Jarrett Gable (SR/Colleyville, Texas) and Kevin Esquilin-Cruz (SR/Trujilo Alto, Puerto Rico).
Ramirez quickly calmed the waters working 4.2 scoreless innings while allowing one hit and striking out nine before tiring in the seventh inning.
“That’s one of the best pitchers we’ve seen this year,” KWU coach Bill Neale said of Ramirez, a sophomore right-hander from Venezuela. “He was throwing a splitter that we really haven’t seen much of. He was running it up there 88, 90 (miles per hour) with a slider mix. He did a good job for some time.”
The Coyotes outlasted him, though.
Handed a 5-4 lead in the sixth inning Ramirez struck out the side in the bottom of the sixth and retired the first KWU batter in the seventh before walking Will Dryburgh and Kendall Foster (SR/Prosper, Texs).
Dusty Sipe’s single tied the game and ended Ramirez’s day. Withers came on and Haydn Brown (SR/Gardnerville, Nev.) drove in a run on a fielder’s choice, Zack Beatty (JR/Maple Park, Ill.) reached on an intentional walk and Withers hit Diego Solis (SO/El Paso, Texas) with a pitch that loaded the bases.
Fisher, who entered the game in the sixth inning and struck out against Ramirez, ended the suspense with his first-ever grand slam.
“Just stay calm and stick to what I usually do,” Fisher said of his approach at the plate. “Luckily, he threw me that breaker and I just kind of turned on it. It feels really good. Felt good with the bat and for it to happen against a team like that is really good.”
“That was awesome,” Neale said. “We got the lead but it was still a tight game and to have him hang a breaking ball to Diego is a dangerous thing to do. He can hit it foul pole to foul pole.”
Neale said the goal was to wear Ramirez down.
“We just made him work and grind,” he said. “We were not getting hits but we grinded it out a little bit and got his pitch count up and knew we’d see someone different at some point.”
KWU added three runs in the eighth on Brown’s RBI double, Beatty’s run-scoring single and a wild pitch that allowed Esquilin-Cruz to score from third.
Ritter Steinmann (SO/Oroville, Calif.) was the winning pitcher. He relieved starter Jake Westbrook at the start of the fifth inning and threw three innings allowing one run on two hits with three strikeouts and no walks. KT Gearlds (SR/Ingram, Texas) and Ryan Sandoval (SR/El Paso, Texas) finished up with a scoreless inning apiece.
The Coyotes (12-5) had nine hits led by Sipe and Brown with two each. Brown drove in three runs and scored twice as did Dryburgh, Foster, Esquilin-Cruz and courtesy runner Coulson Riggs (FR/Piedmont, Okla.).
Neale was glad to see his team challenged with Kansas Conference play beginning Tuesday at Sterling.
“I think we needed this today; we haven’t really been tested a whole lot the last five or six games,” he said. “Being tested and playing from behind and facing that kind of energy is perfect going into Tuesday and giving a feel of what conference play is all about.”