The NJCAA Region VI Baseball Tournament begins Saturday morning and the Seward County Community College (31-25) baseball team is marking their third straight trip to the final eight team bracket that determines who will make it to the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. The two teams in this year’s bracket who are recently the most familiar with the World Series are the Saints who went in 2004 and their first opponent this weekend, the defending Region VI champion, Hutchinson Blue Dragons (43-11). Seward will face Hutchinson on Saturday, May 6 at 1:00 p.m. at Lawrence Dumont Stadium in the double-elimination tournament in Wichita.

This season the Blue Dragons snapped Seward County’s five year run at the top of the Jayhawk West standings by winning the conference with a record of 23-9. The Saints meanwhile finished in a tie for fifth place with a 17-15 conference record.

The Saints earned a trip to the eight-team bracket in Wichita by defeating No. 4 Jayhawk East seed, Fort Scott, in a highly competitive three-game series in Fort Scott. The Saints came back in the series after dropping game one, 5-4, by defeating the Greyhounds 6-4 on Sunday and 11-7 on Monday. Seward and Cowley College are the only two Region VI programs to make three straight appearances at the eight-team tournament, since the new tournament format started in 2004.

Hutchinson didn’t need the second day of their first round series knocking off Labette (Jayhawk East No. 8) 1-0 and 12-2, at home. Hutchinson heads into the Region VI with the most wins (43) and the highest national ranking (No. 7) of any Region VI baseball program this season.

The Blue Dragons are led by Jayhawk West Most Valuable Player, sophomore, Thad Webber. The University of Nebraska signee was not only a First Team All-Conference performer on the pitching mound but also at first base. Webber was a main contributor on last seasons Blue Dragons team that won the Region VI and made an appearance in Grand Junction (World Series) and his role hasn’t

Webber pitched Hutchinson past Labette in the first game of their series throwing a complete-game nine inning shutout against the Cardinals. This season on the mound, Webber is 9-0 with a miniscule 2.14 earned run average and has recorded 57 strikeouts in 11 appearances. Webber is the leader of a Hutchinson pitching staff where no pitcher has more than two losses this season and the staff combines for an amazing team ERA of 3.48. Webber also excels at the plate leading the team in batting average (.464), hits (77), doubles (24) and RBI (61).

The Saints and Blue Dragons split four games this season including both doubleheaders in conference play. In their last meeting, the Saints defeated Hutchinson, 1-0, in a dominating pitching performance from Saints left-hander, Michael Jarman. The sophomore lefty pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing five hits and collecting eight strikeouts. Saints third baseman, Toby Davis, a First Team All-Conference selection, provided the Saints with their only run with a solo blast to right field in the second inning.

Seward County will rely on Brian Majors (.389), Jeff Brewer (.313, six triples, six home runs), Erik Hegstad (.364, 20 doubles, five home runs, 45 RBI) and Davis (.321, 10 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 40 RBI) to lead their offense in Wichita. The Saints will look to an assortment of pitchers to help carry the load at the Region VI tourney including Jarman (7-3, 2.54 ERA, 85 strikeouts), Brett Davis (6-5, 3.94 ERA, 42 strikeouts), Zeb Birch (4-5, 53 strikeouts), Matt Sopic (2-1, 13 strikeouts, 18 innings) and Chris Holguin (7-6, 44 strikeouts).

The eight-teams that qualified for the Region VI are Neosho County, Coffeyville, Barton County, Colby, Cowley College, Butler, Hutchinson and Seward County. Top players who will be seen in Wichita during the tournament will be Barton County’s Jayhawk West Freshman of the Year and First Team All-Conference outfielder Austin Holt (.426, 14 doubles, five home runs, 39 RBI, 24 stolen bases), Hutchinson’s First Team All-Conference outfielder, Andy Dirks (.413, 10 doubles, 10 home runs, 47 RBI, 27 stolen bases), Colby’s Second Team All-Conference second baseman, Jason Chatwood (.403, 17 doubles, seven home runs, 37 RBI), Butler’s First Team All-Conference outfielder, Dustin Koca (.401, 16 doubles, eight home runs, 56 RBI), Butler’s Second Team All-Conference third baseman, Ryan Hudgins (.362, 12 doubles, 14 home runs, 63 RBI), Cowley’s First Team All-Conference shortstop, Brad Miller (.339, nine doubles, four triples, seven home runs, 39 RBI), Neosho County’s Jayhawk East Freshman of the Year, Jake Hoover (.358, eight doubles, 15 home runs, 44 RBI) and Neosho County’s First Team All-Conference third baseman, Steve Winkelmann (.487, 28 doubles, 13 home runs, 73 RBI).

Region VI Tournament Individual Leaders (regular season stats)
Batting Average (Min. 100 at bats) Home Runs
1. Steve Winkelmann .487 Neosho County 1. Jake Hoover 15 Neosho County
2. Thad Webber .464 Hutchinson 2. Eric Shortell 14 Neosho County
3. Austin Holt .426 Barton County 2. Ryan Hudgins 14 Butler
4. Eric Shortell .422 Neosho County 3. Steve Winkelmann 13 Neosho County
5. Jason Sowers .414 Cowley 3. Andy Dirks 10 Hutchinson

Runs Batted In (RBI) Stolen Bases
1. Steve Winkelmann 73 Neosho County 1. Eric Shortell 33 Neosho County
2. Ryan Hudgins 63 Butler 2. Andy Dirks 27 Hutchinson
3. Thad Webber 61 Hutchinson 2. Austin Holt 24 Barton County
4. Dustin Koca 56 Butler 3. Patrick Norris 22 Butler
5. Michael Dabbs 55 Cowley 4. Brandon Dougherty 21 Hutchinson

(PITCHING) Wins Earned Run Average (ERA, Min. 40 innings)
1. Thad Webber 9 Hutchinson 1. Drew Clementz 1.71 Hutchinson
2. Jake Hoover 8 Neosho County 2. Jeremy Sheehan 1.81 Cowley
Chance Fields 8 Coffeyville 3. Thad Webber 2.14 Hutchinson
3. Chris Holguin 7 Seward County 4. Adam Skelton 2.48 Colby
Michael Jarman 7 Seward County 5. Michael Jarman 2.54 Seward County
Brock Nehls 7 Barton County
Adam Skelton 7 Colby
T.R. Keating 7 Colby
Drew Clementz 7 Hutchinson
Durk Wecker 7 Neosho County

Strikeouts Innings Pitched
1. Michael Jarman 85 Seward County 1. Brett Davis 80 Seward County
2. Boomer Potts 68 Neosho County 2. Michael Jarman 78 Seward County
3. T.R. Keating 64 Colby 3. T.R. Keating 68 Colby
4. Chance Fields 59 Coffeyville 4. Zeb Birch 66 Seward County
5. Thad Webber 57 Hutchinson 5. Adam Skelton 65 Colby