Josh Sandoval (SR/Glendale, Ariz.) admits stepping into the batter’s box with the bases loaded gives him some extra juice.
“I get a little bit more confidence with every swing I take with the bases loaded,” he said Saturday.
Sandoval, Kansas Wesleyan’s catcher and clean-up hitter, has been brimming with confidence this season with three men on as evidenced by his amazing success. Facing Bethany’s Chase Lorg, one of the top pitchers in the Kansas Conference, with the bases loaded in the second inning Sandoval sent a fastball well over the center field wall at Dean Evans Stadium that gave the Coyotes a 6-0 lead – his fourth grand slam of the season.
The victory was No. 200 for Wesleyan coach Bill Neale, who’s in his seventh season. The Coyotes improved to 24-11 overall and 16-5 in the conference.
Sandoval’s blast was redemption of sorts after going 1-for-4 with three strikeouts in the first game against Bethany starter Manuel Rodriguez.
“The grand slam was awesome,” Neale said. “Sandy had a tough first game, but he kept coming to the plate and he looked like the same guy. He looked like he was 4-for-4, he was confident, had the same walk, did everything the same. He stuck to his game plan and got a mistake and hit it out of the yard for his fourth grand slam.”
Sandoval also had a single and walk in the second game as the Coyotes had 10 hits against Lorg, who had a feast or famine outing. He allowed seven earned runs on the 10 hits but also struck out 13 in six innings.
“We knew coming in we were going to need to get some runners on and come up with a big hit because we’re probably not going to string big innings together,” Neale said. “And our guys did it.”
KWU took a quick 2-0 lead in the nightcap when William Dryburgh (SO/St. Joseph, Mo.) led off the bottom of the first with a single and promptly scored on Haydn Brown (SR/Gardnerville, Nev.)’s towering homer to right.
Bethany scored twice in the fourth inning but KWU got one back in the fifth when Sandoval walked. Courtesy runner Nicholas Erickson (JR/Las Vegas, Nev.) went to third on an errant pick-off throw and scored on Vehikite’s two-out single.
Brown had three hits, scored twice and drove in two in the game. Sandoval and Vehikite had two hits each.
Sanchez, the KCAC Pitcher of the Week this week, started and was superb for 5.1 innings before departing with an arm injury. He allowed one earned run on four hits, struck out four and walked one in getting the victory. Epke allowed one hit over the final 1.2 innings.
“It’s shame if there’s anything seriously wrong with him because he’s done such a good job, he’s arguably our most valuable pitcher all year.” Neale said of Sanchez, who was a reliever before stepping into a starting role in place of the injured Jansen Lublin (FR/San Diego, Calif.).
Neale also praised Epke, who threw strikes on nine of his 12 pitches.
“There’s no moment too big for him and he throws so many strikes,” he said. “He had an outing a week or two ago where he got three outs and didn’t throw a single pitch for a ball in the inning. He’s everything a coach wants.”
Sandoval said winning the second game was essential after the opener.
“It was definitely big,” he said. “It was a struggle in the first one to get anything going. It was great that we got that second game going and were able to hit better.”
KWU starter Trent Dewyer (JR/Albuquerque, N.M.) and Rodriguez dominated the opener. Dalton Bishop (JR/Colorado Springs, Colo.)’s solo homer to center in the bottom of the fifth inning gave KWU a 1-0 lead and was the first hit of the game for either team.
Bethany scored three in the top of the sixth on Braden Scrivner’s homer and Hunter Roe’s two-run double.
KWU made it 3-2 in the eighth when Austin Cross (JR/Montgomery, Texas) led off with a double and scored on Brown’s two-out single – his second hit of the game. But the Coyotes stranded runners at second and third in the inning and did so again in the ninth against reliever Taylor Grider.
Dewyer gave up three runs, two earned, on seven hits with six strikeouts and two walks in seven innings. Ethan Wilson (JR/Thackerville, Okla.) pitched two perfect innings, striking out four in the process.
Rodriguez allowed two runs on five hits with nine strikeouts and a walk in eight innings.
“(Rodriguez and Lorg) are two of the best in the conference and they showed it today,” Neale said. “They’re strikeout pitchers, they’re kind of all or nothing with strikeouts. It was nice to get some key hits in game two.”
The Coyotes and Swedes conclude the three-game series with a single, nine-inning game Sunday starting at 1 p.m. at Evans Stadium.