GREAT BEND – The Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes are the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament Champions.
Making a run for the ages, and never before accomplished in the conference tournament in the 6-team, true double elimination format, the sixth-seeded Coyotes would bounce back from losing their first round game, winning five straight games to claim the conference tournament title.
The two wins in the championship series would come over the same team that knocked off the Coyotes in the first round game. The Coyotes knocked off Tabor 13-5 in the first championship game, and then pulled off a comeback for the ages winning 8-7 in 10 innings to claim the tournament title in the deciding game.
It's the first KCAC Tournament title for the Coyotes since 2011, when KWU won on a walkoff play in the bottom of the ninth inning over Tabor. KWU would reach the championship game of the NAIA Opening Round that season as well.
"With the way our season has gone, this was the team that was going to pull this off," Wesleyan head coach Bill Neale said, claiming his first conference tournament title as the head Coyote. "I'm just so happy for my guys, they deserve this, especially the seniors. They deserve to keep playing as long as we can."
Many players stepped up in the finale, helping the Coyotes rally and get the win.
The Coyotes trailed 4-2 in the seventh inning, but put the rally caps on. Diego Fisher (JR/Hollister, Calif.) and William Dryburgh (SR/St. Joseph, Mo.) singled to put a pair of baserunners on for the Coyotes. Kevin Esquilin Cruz (JR/Trujilo Alto, Puerto Rico) then stepped up and put down a bunt that was thrown away by the pitcher that allowed Fisher and Dryburgh to score to tie the game. Two batters later, Dustin Sipe (JR/Aztec, N.M.) grounded out, bringing home Esquilin Cruz to put the Coyotes up 5-4.
"Something we have done this entire tournament was capitalizing on mistakes, and we did it again today in the seventh," Neale said. "It was a big momentum shifter for us at the right time."
Tabor tied it in the bottom of the seventh and took an 6-5 lead in the bottom of the eighth on a homer by Kasey Weems, his second of the day.
Back came the Coyotes in the top of the ninth. Haydn Brown (SR/Gardnerville, Nev.) singled to start the rally for the Coyotes, followed by walks to Sipe and Jalen Jones (SO/Katy, Texas) to load the bases, and then a third straight walk issued to Yealex Lopez-Torres (JR/Arecibo, Puerto Rico) to force in the game-tying run.
"Yealex has stepped up for us so much in the last couple weeks," Neale said. "He went from being a role player to us into the lineup, and moving up to a big spot in the sixth spot. He was great today, big hits, unbelievable patience against one of the top pitchers in the conference."
Wesleyan got Tabor to go in order in the ninth, sending the game to extras.
Dryburgh singled to left center with one out to put the go-ahead run on base for the Coyotes. After a flyout, the Coyotes were down to their last out, and Brown to the plate. After fouling the first pitch off, he crushed the next offering well out to right field for the go-ahead 2-run homer putting the Coyotes up 8-6.
"I'm just so happy for Haydn," Neale said. "He's been trying to do a little too much lately, but he slowed things down today for us and put a great swing on that pitch."
The Coyotes got a quick out in the bottom of the 10th, but a homer by Rodolfo Vasquez got the Bluejays back within a run at 8-7. Another strikeout by KT Gearlds (JR/Ingram, Texas) for the Coyotes had KWU one out away, but had to deal with Weems at the plate with a chance to tie the game again.
Weems walked, bringing Cody Moore to the plate. Gearlds would get Moore to check swing bounce one into play, and fielded it and tossed to first sparking a celebration amongst the Coyotes.
"We wanted to stay away from Weems, but you never want to put the tying run on base and the go ahead run at the plate, but KT has had success against Moore, so we felt it was a good match-up," Neale said. "KT was unbelievable, he never fears the moment and stepped up huge tonight."
The Coyotes took a 1-0 lead in the first on a RBI single by Jones that scored Esquilin Cruz who singled in the inning.
Tabor answered with two runs off a Weems homer in the bottom of the frame and extended the lead to 4-1 in the third with two runs.
Wesleyan got one back in the fifth on a RBI groundout by Sipe to score Esquilin Cruz ahead of KWU's seventh inning rally.
Esquilin Cruz and Brown had three hits each to lead the Coyotes in the final game. Dryburgh added two hits, as did Jarrett Gable (JR/Colleyville, Texas). Gearlds got the win for the Coyotes, tossing three innings, allowing two runs on two hits with four strikeouts in relief.
Branden Voytko (JR/El Paso, Texas) got the game two start after pitching against Tabor in the tournament opener on Friday. He went three and a third with four strikeouts. Oscar Sanchez (JR/Celina, Texas) (two and two-thirds) and Ryan Sandoval (JR/El Paso, Texas) (one inning) also appeared for the Coyotes.
To even get to all the excitement of the final game, the Coyotes had to win the first game of the championship series, which was a 13-5 decision.
It was a scoreless game until the bottom of the third inning when the Coyotes scored seven times. A single by Fisher, followed by another hit by Dryburgh set the stage for Esquilin Cruz to drive in the first run of the inning with a single. Brown followed with a RBI single. Two batters later it was Jones' turn for a RBI single, followed by RBI hits by Lopez-Torres and Gable. After a Tabor pitching change, Josh Sandoval (SR/Glendale, Ariz.) drove in two runs with a double to center.
The Coyots added four more in the fourth. Dryburgh led off the inning with a double and went to third on an error. Esquilin Cruz brought him home with a single. Brown singled, Sipe walked, and Jones would drive in a run with a sacrifice fly. Lopez-Torres reached on an error setting up Gable's 2-run single to left.
Two more for the Coyotes in the bottom of the sixth came on a RBI single by Gable and a RBI single by Dryburgh.
Tabor got on the board in the seventh with three runs, and added two more in the eighth.
The Coyotes had 19 hits in the first game, as Esquilin Cruz had four, as the Lopez-Torres. Gable had three hits and drove in three runs. Dryburgh added three hits as well, and Brown had two.
Trent Dewyer (JR/Albuquerque, N.M.) picked up the win, coming back after getting the win over Oklahoma Wesleyan on Saturday, going six and two thirds, allowing three runs on six hits with six strikeouts. Cayden Diccion (JR/Piedmont, Calif.) pitched an inning, and Nathaniel Beers (JR/Port Orchard, Wash.) went an inning and a third.
KWU now awaits the NAIA National Championship Opening Round. The Coyotes will find out where, and who they'll play in the Opening Round on Thursday at 4 p.m. on the NAIA Baseball National Championship Selection Show.