Coyotes finally make their Series breakthrough

May 23—After playing in an Opening Round championship series four times in the last 15 years, the Kansas Wesleyan Coyotes are finally heading to Lewiston.

The Coyotes just missed out on berths in the Avista NAIA World Series in 2009, 2011 and 2023, but finally broke through this spring, knocking off top-ranked LSU Shreveport 2-1 in the championship game of the Shreveport Bracket to make it to the dance. In the game, Kansas Wesleyan stifled Isaac Rohde, the NAIA's top pitcher in ERA (1.68) and strikeouts (129).

"It's a bit of disbelief," said Kansas Wesleyan coach Bill Neale. "Never happened in program history. I'm so proud of (the players) and what they've done. It's something that was on the goal sheet — to make it to Lewiston. I'm definitely fired up."

The Coyotes (48-10) finished the regular season as the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference champions with a 32-4 conference record. In the final NAIA coaches' poll on April 24, the Coyotes were ranked 20th. But the final ranking doesn't matter much to Neale. There are 10 teams left still playing baseball and that makes the Coyotes a top-10 team.

"We're not going to change who we are (at the World Series)," Neale said. "We played all year with a freeness, and one thing I like about this team is we don't look at other teams stats and social media. We worry about us. If we play our best baseball, we can beat anybody on any day.

Kansas Wesleyan's offensive prowess starts with senior shortstop Jarrett Gable. He sports a .386 batting average and a .722 slug percentage with 93 hits and 76 RBI from 241 at-bats. Last season, Gable was named KCAC baseball player of the year and an NAIA All-American.

"We had to convince him to come back for his COVID year," Neale said. "He was looking at flight school and being a hunting guide, but myself and his parents convinced him to be a kid for another year and play college ball."

Senior center fielder Kendall Foster leads the KCAC in home runs with 23 in 48 games played. He's ranked second in triples (5) and sixth in doubles (17) on the season, even after missing 12 games because of an oblique injury.

The biggest leader on the team is junior catcher Tyler Favretto. The Quebec, Canada, native has caught 58 of 58 games this season.

"He's a leader in the dugout, on the field and he leads by example," Neale said. "He does everything right, has a high baseball IQ and his knowledge of the game is as high of anybody I've ever coached."

One of Kansas Wesleyan's biggest strengths is its pitching crew.

"Our bullpen is what we hang our hat on," Neale said. "We call it a 'three-headed monster.'"

Junior right-hander Brett Maddock, who won the game against LSU Shreveport (one of the best offenses in the nation) by keeping it a one-run game. The Oakdale, Calif., product sports a 9-2 record with 75 strikeouts and 20 walks through 77 1/3 innings pitched.

Senior right-hander Jarrett Brannen has an 11-1 record, tallying 77 strikeouts and 26 walks during 77 2/3 innings pitched.

Neale said senior Zach Westbrook has been his best pitcher in the last month or so and has really stepped up.

"We're excited to be there and the boys are excited to get to be there," Neale said. "We're going there on a mission — our plan is to go win some baseball games. I'm proud that we're one of the last 10 teams standing in the country and we get a chance to play more baseball."

Kansas Wesleyan opens the World Series against the Arizona Christian Firestorm at 8:35 a.m. Friday. The teams have only faced each other twice, with both bouts going in the Firestorm's favor — a 13-7 decision on Jan. 27, 2023, and a 5-3 matchup on Jan. 27, 2022.

"We're very similar in stats and what we and they do in the lineup is pretty close," Neale said. "We have to pitch well and can't let their guys beat us. They are very talented, so we just need a good outing from our starting pitcher."