The Cheney Diamond Dawgs will play for their first National Baseball Congress World Series championship against the Seattle Studs at Eck Stadium on Saturday night.
It’s an intriguing matchup pitting Wichita’s best and champions of the Sunflower Collegiate League against an NBC powerhouse playing in its seventh championship game in the past 15 years.
But for the Diamond Dawgs, this title run has been three years in the making for a core group that has powered the team to new heights this summer.
“There’s no words to express how everything has fallen into place and how things couldn’t have worked out more perfectly,” Diamond Dawgs manager Pat Hon said. “It’s like it’s destined and meant to be for these guys.”
The foundation of the Diamond Dawgs was established in the summer of 2017 when a group of mostly Texas junior-college baseball players came to Cheney not knowing what to expect.
They got a taste of success that summer, as the Diamond Dawgs made a surprise run to the NBC World Series semifinals, losing to the Kansas Stars, a team comprised of former Major League Baseball stars.
For most summer baseball teams, that could have been a conclusion. But for the Diamond Dawgs, it was just the beginning.
“Ever since then when we didn’t get the job done, we left the field saying we’re all coming back together,” Hon said. “And every single person came back for us. We put this team together with (Saturday) in mind.”
The core is made up of six players who have been with the Diamond Dawgs for the past three summers: third baseman Jackson Glenn, catcher Andrew Miller, outfielder Tresten Kennard, outfielder Kyler Castillo, pitcher Nate Postlethwait and first baseman Scott Hastings.
So why keep coming back to Cheney every summer?
“Unfinished business,” said Kennard, who scored twice in the Diamond Dawgs’ 13-3 victory over the Kansas Cannons in Friday’s semifinal. “And I love Pat. We have a really good relationship and he’s someone I can trust and can go to for anything. So why not come back when you have that type of relationship?”
Hon is regarded as one of the area’s top recruiters because he’s able to make personal connections to his players. And those relationships don’t end when the Diamond Dawgs’ season does at the end of the summer.
When the players leave and go back to their four-year colleges, Hon has set up a group text chain for everyone to stay connected. It’s that type of commitment that makes it appealing for college players to spend their summers with him.
“It’s such a family atmosphere here,” said Miller, who leads the team in runs batted in this tournament. “I seriously feel like I’ve got 25 new brothers every summer. And Pat is like a father to all of us. He’s always there for us.”
This week has been the culmination of the past three years together and their best summer yet.
The Diamond Dawgs dominated the Sunflower Collegiate League, finishing the summer with a 36-6 record and having won 17 of their final 19 games. That momentum carried over to the NBC World Series, as the Diamond Dawgs went 5-0 to reach Saturday’s championship game, including a 5-4 victory over the Studs in the first game of the tournament in pool play on August 1.
Castillo is hitting .421 to lead the Diamond Dawgs, while second-year players like Wade Raburn (.389 average), Tyler Miller (no earned runs in seven innings) and Jacob Uhing (2.45 ERA in three-plus innings) have strengthened the team.
“We’ve got so much chemistry together,” Miller said. “Pat always does a great job of recruiting and once those new guys started to gel, we started playing to our strengths instead of playing as individuals. We’re clicking at the right time.”
While the Studs are the more experienced team playing for a program that expects to play for championships, the Diamond Dawgs don’t view themselves as an underdog story.
They believe it is their destiny to bring home the program’s first NBC World Series championship.
“This is our last summer being out here, so we might as well leave it all out on the field,” Kennard said. “It’s really special being able to do it with a group that’s been together for as long as we have. To be able to play for it all, that’s pretty special and you couldn’t ask for a better ending.”