The Saints celebrate after defeating Colby in the Region VI championship Monday at Lawrence Dumont Stadium in Wichita. For the second time in school history, The Saints have qualified for the NJCAA College World Series. Photo courtesy Roy Allen
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
Seward County had a two-game plan heading into the Region VI championship. But five innings into the game, Seward coach Galen McSpadden threw a curve ball of his own and put Keegan Hucul on the mound rather than saving him for the possibility of an “if” game.
Hucul gave up two hits over the final five innings of the game in a 5-2 Seward County win that qualified the Saints for the NJCAA College World Series for only the second time in school history.
“I rolled the dice,” McSpadden said. “We decided to go after this game, and if we needed to, we would piece together the last one.”
Hucul had been throwing in the bullpen for two days, and McSpadden received reports that Hucul had three pitches working.
Gavin Glanz started the game and had surrendered seven walks and two runs. With only a one-run lead, McSpadden made the switch that shut down Colby and led to a Region VI championship.
The Saints jumped on Colby’s Cory Ridenour early, scoring three runs in the first inning.
All three runs were scored with two outs.
“We come right out and scored three and I thought we might get to this guy,” McSpadden said. “We didn’t do that. He settled in, and Glanz wasn’t throwing close to what he had been, but he got through four innings. I thought we would knock the pitcher out, but we just scratched him.”
Seward added two insurance runs in the seventh and eight for the 5-2 lead, and Hucul retired three straight Colby batters in the ninth for the win.
Tyler Hill provided the offense with a four-for-five
performance at the plate. He was just the next Saint to step up in a line of key strong outings that provided the six-game sweep of th Super Regional and the Region VI Championship Tournament.
“Tyler has hit well all year long,” McSpadden said. “He was off Friday and Saturday, but he does so much right at the plate that his slumps don’t last long. He carried us at the plate yesterday. The day before that it was Willy (Gustin), before that it was (Jake)Barrios. It didn’t matter if one guy was down, someone else picked them up.”
The defense also provided a spark for the Saints, and a demoralizer for Colby. Seward first baseman J. T. Bean chased down a foul ball that should have landed outside the field of play, but Bean hit the gate down the right field line and ended up in the beer garden at Lawrence Dumont Stadium, with the ball in his glove. That provided the first out of the eighth inning.
“That took the wind out of Colby’s sail,” McSpadden said. “You could feel it.”
Seward will return to the NJCAA World Series for the second time during McSpadden’s 30 years at the helm of the Saints baseball program, and while that seems like a small number, it is an indication of how tough the Jayhawk Conference has been.
There are 19 teams vying for the Region VI crown, and tow tournaments to win to get to the national tournament.
Since McSpadden is also the athletic director, he joked that maybe he “should have fired myself.”
But the Saints have consistently won 40-plus games. This year’s 44 wins were the most since 2004, when the Saints qualified for the NJCAA World Series, and the Saints have sent players to the majors with regularity under McSpadden’s leadership.
At one point this season, Seward was 18-12 before winning 26 of the last 32 games including 16 of the last 17 and a clean sweep of the two qualifying tournaments.
Seward’s opponent has yet to be determined for the first round of the national tournament in Grand Junction Colo., which begins Memorial Day weekend. Their opponent will be the winner of the John A. Logan, Ill., vs. Iowa Western game in the Northern Regional.
Seward is scheduled to play in the 7:30 p.m. game May 28.