Tristan Devane (FR/Frostproof, Fla.) and the Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes were in a jam. A really big jam.
Southwestern had scored twice in the seventh inning to trim KWU’s lead to 6-4, had runners and first and second with no outs and leadoff batter London Penland was at the plate.
The threat and the inning, though, ended in six seconds thanks to Devane and the Coyotes’ defense.
Penland attempted to lay down a bunt but got under the pitch from Tyler Davis (FR/The Woodlands, Texas) and popped it up down the third base line. Devane, playing third base, raced in and made a sliding catch straddling the baseline halfway between home and third for the first out.
But the fireworks were just starting.
“I heard my catcher (Josh Sandoval (SR/Glendale, Ariz.)) say ‘two’ – throw to second – and it just went from there,” Devane said.
From there Devane quickly got to his feet and threw to shortstop Dalton Bishop (JR/Colorado Springs, Colo.) at second to double off Southwestern baserunner Sparky Bray, who was moving to third on the play. Bishop turned and threw to first baseman Dalton Whitaker (SR/Edmond, Okla.) to double off Taite Saldana, who was on his way to second.
Triple play, inning over.
Whitaker belted a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh and the Coyotes held on for an 8-4 Kansas Conference victory in the regular season finale Sunday afternoon at Dean Evans Stadium.
The victory helped KWU secure the No. 3 seed in the six-team KCAC postseason tournament that begins Wednesday in Great Bend. The Coyotes will play fourth-seeded McPherson at 7 p.m. in their opening game.
Wesleyan ends the regular season with a school-record 23 conference victories (23-11) and is 31-17 overall.
Devane said his immediate focus after making the catch was the runner at second.
“He was the lead runner, so I didn’t want to like throw to first and then him get to third and possibly score,” he said. “It was just all greatly executed, how we’re supposed to get the bunt play.”
Coach Bill Neale said the triple play was representative of the 2021 season.
“We’ve come up with big plays when big plays were needed,” he said. “Whether it’s luck sometimes or we’re playing good baseball, getting that big hit or big defensive play.
“What (Devane) did really well was he didn’t rush the throw. He looked and saw where both runners were, got up, set his feet and made a strong throw to second and then it was an easy play for Dalton to finish off.”
Neale said he wasn’t surprised Devane made the play.
“The one thing you never question is his defense,” he said. “Even when he hasn’t started, he’s gone in the seventh, eighth, ninth innings and played defense. When he’s out there defense is definitely the least of my worries with him.”
Starter Dylan Epke (FR/Wichita, Kan.) was the winning pitcher, going five strong innings and allowing one run on three hits with four strikeouts and no walks. Christopher Nam (JR/Honolulu, Hawaii), Ben Jackson, Davis and Trey Griffin (JR/Stinnett, Texas) pitched the last four innings.
“We know he’s that good and can do those things,” Neale said of Epke. “He’ll be a big piece of our bullpen going into the tournament. I was proud of him; he’s only a true freshman and he’s only going to get better.”
KWU took a 3-0 lead in the third inning on five hits and an error with a big assist from the sun. Devane drove in Whitaker with the first run. Will Dryburgh singled with two outs and scored when Southwestern outfielders lost Austin Cross (JR/Montgomery, Texas)’ high fly ball in the sun allowing Dryburgh to score and Cross to race to third. Cross then scored when Southwestern infielders lost Hadyn Brown’s high pop fly in the sun.
Sisipako Vehikite (JR/Santa Clara, Calif.)’s double scored Whitaker and Trey Lopez (SR/Burlington, Wash.) in the fourth inning giving KWU a 5-1 lead and Brown’s solo home run to center in the fifth made it 6-1.
Southwestern scored a run in the sixth without a hit and appeared on the cusp of the big comeback in the seventh before the triple play wiped it out.
Whitaker’s seventh inning blast also scored Sandoval, who had singled.
The Coyotes had 11 total hits – Lopez with three and Brown two. Neale, though, said there’s more work to do for his team to climb out of its late season doldrums.
“We’re going to do some things Monday and Tuesday before we leave and talk approach with our guys,” he said. “Not so much physical stuff but make sure we’re there in a good place with some guys and get back to confidence in driving the baseball. But anytime you get 11 hits you definitely feel good going home.”
“We’re trying to get comfortable; we know what we can do, we’re a great team, we’re a hitting team – that’s what do is hit,” Devane said.
The game was the final home appearance for 13 seniors – Fraser Boyd (JR/Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), Cody Peepgrass (SR/Littleton, Colo.), Trent Short (SR/Imperial, Mo.), Freddie Garcia (JR/Palmdale, Calif.), Nam, Spencer Keane (JR/Palm Springs, Calif.), Jackson, John Olivier (SR/Castle Rock, Colo.), Lopez, Kaden Sitzman (SR/McCook, Neb.), Cross, Whitaker and assistant coach Shea Goessman.