The recently-updated front page of Tabor College’s athletics website tells the simple, straightforward story of baseball coach Mark Standiford’s seven seasons in Hillsboro.
“Back to back to back to back KCAC champions”
What else is there to know?
“What else to know is that this is always a work in progress,” Standiford said. “We have 30 new players that weren’t with us last year, and as a coach you’re always trying to find a way to get those different personalities to mix. What the teams have in common, though, is that they go out and compete. Our standards are very high.”
Tabor’s standards have become higher and higher in Standiford’s tenure, culminating in the school’s first NAIA World Series appearance last season — and the first World Series victory by a KCAC school. The Bluejays, KCAC regular-season champions for the fourth straight season, are ranked No. 9 headed into Thursday’s KCAC Tournament opener in Great Bend against Wednesday night’s Saint Mary-Bethany winner.
Tabor (46-9) isn’t the only upstart in the KCAC on the national scene, either. Sterling is ranked No. 17 and the KCAC has seven teams in the top 100 of the Bo Chip Power Index, the NAIA’s version of the RPI.
Sterling was actually the first KCAC team to make it to the World Series, going in 2013. Winning the KCAC Tournament title would likely guarantee the Bluejays a No. 1 seed in an NAIA regional.
“There’s no doubt the (KCAC) keeps getting better and better,” Standiford said. “The power rating shows that. The league, top to bottom, is as good as it’s ever been. The conference championships mean a lot to me because it represents such a grind ... it’s something you work for over the course of 30-or-so games. And it signals us reaching our first goal.”
That’s with Tabor and Standiford, a former Wichita State star, as the standard-bearers.
After losing most of last year’s core, the Bluejays have reloaded with a group of transfers and newcomers led by third baseman Alex Couch, who came to Tabor from Walters State Community College and leads Tabor and is third in the KCAC with a .418 batting average.
Iowa Lakes Community College transfer Manny Deleon isn’t far behind with a .415 batting average. Northeastern State transfer and Coffeyville native Dustin Hurlburtt has been Tabor’s ace — the junior right-hander is 9-1 with a 2.89 ERA and leads the KCAC with 78 strikeouts.
The most unexpected boost, however, has come from sophomore center fielder Jerrik Sigg, who is hitting .364 and is third in the KCAC in RBIs (51), triples (5) and home runs (11).
Sigg transferred to Tabor from WSU in January and turned into a team leader right away.
“He took a leadership role right off the bat,” Standiford said. “He’s been very vocal, done a very good job for us.”
Sigg, from Iola, played his freshman season at Allen Community College and redshirted last season at WSU.
“WSU just had a surplus of outfielders, and after not playing for so long I really wanted to get back on the field,” Sigg said. “I was already really familiar with Tabor from my summer team, so it was a perfect fit for me.”
Sigg, who has played for the Valley Center Diamond Dawgs the last two summers, joined four of his summer teammates, including Couch and Blake Standiford, the coach’s son, at Tabor.
“I think we all understand that this is the only time that this particular group of guys will be together,” Sigg said. “I think we’re all excited for the opportunity we have in front of us.”