A lot has changed over the last year for the Tabor College baseball team.
They have almost a whole new roster. The league they play in, the KCAC, has become something of a murderer’s row.
What hasn’t changed is the Bluejays’ destination — the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, for the second year in a row — or their attitude.
“For us, the expectations are the same as they were last year,” coach Mark Standiford said. “We set our standards high. Last year gave us some confidence and we’re ready for that challenge again.”
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Tabor (53-10) begins play at the World Series on Friday against Embry-Riddle (39-17). Embry-Riddle is making its 13th World Series appearance, while Tabor is their for the second time.
The Bluejays swept the KCAC regular season and tournament titles, and advanced after defeating Bellevue in an NAIA regional.
“It’s very satisfying because we have a different team and the quality of the KCAC is as good as I’ve ever seen in my time here,” said Standiford, who is in his seventh season. “I feel like, with the league we play in and our non-conference schedule, we’re ready to play anyone.”
Tabor, ranked No. 5 in the country, is a No. 3 seed in the World Series, where they went 2-2 last year. A win over Embry-Riddle would give Tabor two days off before its next game. The Bluejays will start junior right-handed pitcher, Coffeyville native and KCAC co-Pitcher of the Year Dustin Hurlbutt (10-2, 2.70 ERA) against Embry-Riddle.
Hurlbutt has a career-high 100 strikeouts this season.
“I’m preparing for this just like I’ve prepared for every game this season,” Hurlbutt said. “I’ve still got eight guys behind me that can play great defense and nine guys that can hit the ball, that hasn’t changed. Everybody on this team wants to be the guy that makes the big play, everybody wants to go out and do something to help the team win.”
Enderson Velasquez leads No. 16 Embry-Riddle with a .377 batting average, while Liam Goodall has a team-high 81 hits and 59 RBIs. The Eagles will likely start Zac Grotz (8-1, 0.65 ERA) or Stetson Nelson (9-4, 1.52 ERA) in the opener.
“I’ve been telling my teammates to have fun with this,” said senior infielder Gadiel Baez, a Cowley product who also played in the World Series last year. “Fun is the key. You’re not out there having fun, you’re out there playing nervous, that’s when you make mistakes.”