KWU splits with Southwestern as Sitzman stellar on the hill

The special occasion wasn’t too big for Kaden Sitzman (SR/McCook, Neb.).

Given the ball at the start of Kansas Wesleyan’s second game against Southwestern on Saturday Sitzman didn’t flinch despite everything going on – Senior Day, his last appearance at Dean Evans Stadium and the Coyotes badly needing to win after losing the opener.

Sitzman responded a with a complete game gem allowing four hits, striking out three and walking two in KWU’s 5-1 Kansas Conference victory. Southwestern won the first game 11-0.

The Coyotes enter Sunday’s regular season finale against Moundbuilders tied for third with McPherson at 22-10 in the conference standings – the 22 victories a single-season KWU record for conference wins. Wesleyan and McPherson play at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Great Bend in first round of the six-team KCAC tournament. Both KWU and McPherson are guaranteed either the 3 or 4 seed in the tournament.

Southwestern made things interesting in the seventh inning putting two runners on and one out but Sitzman ended the suspense and the game with a ground out and strikeout.

“I knew the guys would bounce back going into the next game,” said Sitzman, who raised his record to 5-3. “I knew it was my last time out here at Dean, so I just tried to go out and make the most of it.”

Sitzman said his breaking pitches served him well.

“I mainly threw a lot of heavy cutters and finally got control of that curveball in the second and third innings,” he said. “I just felt like I was able to spot with all my pitches and that led to my success. I was pleased with my outing.”

KWU coach Bill Neale was impressed.

“He’s been really good his last three outings,” he said. “He struggled a little bit at the start against McPherson (last weekend) but he one-hit Tabor and came out here and be a shut-down guy after the performance that we had (in the first game). That didn’t affect him and what he did. He was ‘hey I’ll shut these guys down and you guys give me a few runs.’ It wasn’t going to take many for him to win today.”

The Coyotes gave Sitzman a 1-0 lead in the first inning. William Dryburgh (SO/St. Joseph, Mo.) led off with a walk, went to second when Austin Cross (JR/Montgomery, Texas) walked and scored on Haydn Brown (SR/Gardnerville, Nev.)’s single.

Southwestern tied it on Donovan McMullen’s home run in the third inning but Sitzman slammed the door the rest of the way.

He said the strong south wind wasn’t a significant factor.

“The wind’s always going to blow, and you’ve got to move (the ball) down in the (strike) zone,” he said. “That’s what I did except for that one mistake (to McMullen) and I left it up in the zone and he put it out of the yard.”

Sitzman, who returned for a second senior season after the COVID-19 pandemic erased most of the 2020 season, said he had extra motivation Saturday.

“My whole family came down from Nebraska and I don’t get to throw in front of them very often, so I just came out here and tried to make the most of it,” he said.

KWU broke the 1-1 tie with three runs in the fifth on Dryburgh’s solo homer and Josh Sandoval (SR/Glendale, Ariz.)’s two-run blast after Cross walked. The Coyotes made it 5-1 in the fifth on Tristan Devane (FR/Frostproof, Fla.)’s solo homer.

Wesleyan finished with eight hits after collecting five in the opener. Dryburgh, Brown and Sandoval had two hits apiece in the second game.

“We’re struggling (hitting) as a group right now,” Neale said. “We’ve won some games lately with timely hits. That’s good and all but going into the tournament we definitely need to get some more guys going.”

The Coyotes had little success in the first game against Southwestern starter Tanner Olmstead, who went the distance and retired the last 14 batters he faced. He allowed the five hits, struck out nine and walked one in eight innings.

KWU starter Trent Dewyer (JR/Albuquerque, N.M.) (3-5) took the loss, allowing two runs on four hits in three innings.

The Coyotes stranded two runners in three consecutive innings – second, third and fourth. Dalton Whitaker (SR/Edmond, Okla.) had two hits.

“He threw a sinkerball away and we didn’t really adjust,” Neale said of Olmstead. “We kept doing the same thing over and over and I guess expecting a different outcome and we all know how that goes.”