When it comes time for KCAC postseason awards, it’s been an automatic that Coach of the Year honors are bestowed to the coaches who guide their teams to conference championships.
Which is a shame this year, considering the coaching jobs turned in by McPherson College softball coach Ashley Spencer and Bulldog baseball coach Bryan Moses. Sometimes you have to look past the championships and see which coaches made dramatic improvements in their programs.
What Spencer has done is nothing short of remarkable.
In her first two seasons, Spencer — a former University of Kansas pitcher — was an unsightly 13-74, just 5-35 in the KCAC.
So what did she do? She went out and recruited better players.
With an exciting sweep of arch-rival Bethany College on Sunday, the Bulldogs are now 11-9 in the KCAC and 25-21 overall — the 25 wins being a school record.
While they won’t win the championship, they have a chance to advance to the conference’s postseason tournament. With a win in either game Tuesday at Tabor, the Bulldogs will finish with a winning record in conference play, an unthinkable thought after last year’s 9-39 season, 4-18 in the KCAC. That, however, was an improvement over 2015 when the Bulldogs were 1-17 in the KCAC and 4-35 overall.
What’s exciting is that Mac honored only three players on Senior Day Sunday. Most of their top newcomers are freshmen, led by pitcher Christie Betker, who gives the team a legitimate chance to win every time she takes the mound. Freshmen Kortney Jones and Jessica Jones have developed into top players as well as Mac may have the most star-studded freshman class in the KCAC. Kortney Jones leads the team in average (.435), homers (4) and RBIs (42). Jessica Jones sets the table from the leadoff spot, batting .429 and scoring a team-high 45 runs. Another newcomer, transfer Judith Salazar, is hitting .371 and has 41 RBIs. Sophomore Chelsea Conrad, coming off a week when she was named KCAC Player of the Week, also is at a robust .363 and freshman Ali Smith is batting .340.
Betker has a 16-9 record on the mound with a 3.71 ERA. She has worked 148 innings and while she does get hit at times (allowing 160), she was the ability to work around trouble. If Spencer can find a pitcher similar to her for next year, the Bulldogs should contend for the KCAC championship because in softball it’s all about pitching and defense.
The baseball team has experienced a similar renaissance. The Bulldogs were 20-35 last year, 7-19 in the KCAC. The year before, though, they were just 2-26 in the KCAC and 8-44 overall.
Moses is in his first year and the Bulldogs are 23-25 overall (the 23 wins are a school record) and 11-12 in the KCAC. That may not sound like much, but Sunday they defeated the No. 12 team in the country, Tabor, and recently won two of three from No. 23 Sterling. With four KCAC games remaining, they still have an excellent chance to make the postseason. The Bulldogs host Tabor today in a single game and after a single game with Central Christian College on Tuesday, they close conference play with a weekend road series at Bethany.
The Bulldogs broke out of the gates winning their first six games of the season, but then lost 12 of their next 13.
But they’ve played solid baseball since conference play began. Four of their conference losses have been by a run, so they could easily be past .500 with a big hit here or there.
Mac has five regulars hitting better than .300, led by Lane Fleming’s robust .396. He’s pounded 12 homers and driven in 47 runs, both far and away tops on the team.
The Bulldogs don’t have a true stopper, though Matthew Green could be considered the ace with a 5-2 record and 2.89 ERA. If Mac is to challenge for the upper echelon next year, Moses’ goal will be to bring in some quality starting pitching.
The Bulldogs honored six seniors Sunday. Two of them, Dylan Klava and Blake Ware, have been instrumental in the Bulldogs’ turnaround this season, but most of the everyday players are underclassmen.
Hopefully the Bulldogs’ baseball and softball seasons will include postseason play as the programs continue to be on the rise. With a bullet.