Postseason college baseball returns to Hutchinson this week as the NAIA Baseball Championship opening rounds begin at nine sites across the nation. Five teams will compete at Hobart Detter Field in a double-elimination bracket with the winner advancing to Lewiston, Id. for the NAIA World Series.
It’s a spot Tabor College has reached twice in three years, and the Blue Jays have once positioned themselves to make a run at a title. They’re ranked 13th nationally and will enter Monday’s play as a 3-seed.
“It’s the time of year when little things become more important now,” Tabor coach Mark Standiford said. “You can’t give teams an extra out, and you need to catch some breaks too. Every little bit helps.”
A decade of leading Tabor baseball has given Sandiford the experience and wisdom to know lucky bounces are needed to become one of the 10 teams to reach the World Series. But he’s also established a program that has consistently produced championship-quality teams. Along with two previous World Series appearances, Tabor has also reached the NAIA Opening Round six years in a row.
Standiford said the high level of play has produced an equally high level of expectations. Tabor baseball isn’t lucky to be here; it’s supposed to be here.
“Our goal every year is to get to the World Series,” he said. “That’s a step-by-step process, but the reality for every team we’ve had here is if we don’t make it, it would be disappointing. So we’re not satisfied with just making the postseason.”
Tabor’s offense has led the way to it’s seventh consecutive 40+ win season. The Blue Jays rank No. 1 in the NAIA with a .382 team batting average and No. 2 in the nation at an average of 9.3 runs per game.
The numbers come despite a dip in the regular season last month in which Tabor won just 5 of 9 games over a two-week stretch that covered the first half of April. But a one-day road trip to Columbia, Mo. saw the team score 28 runs over 14 innings to sweep Harris-Stowe State and Columbia.
“That doubleheader against two very good teams got us going offensively,” Standiford said. “It’s been a struggle for us to stay consistent at times, but I think that road trip might have been the turning point for us.”
Tabor will once again serve as the host team in the opening round with games played in Hutchinson. Play will begin with No. 4 Jamestown facing No. 5 Concordia at 11 a.m., followed by No. 3 Tabor vs. No. 2 Missouri Baptist at 2:30.
Top-seeded Clarke will play the winner of Jamestown/Concordia at 6 p.m.
Standiford said he’ll likely open the tournament with senior Jagger Harjo as his starting pitcher. The transfer from Emporia State posted a 9-2 record in 13 starts this season.