The NJCAA Division I Region VI Baseball Tournament begins this weekend with eight first round best two-of-three playoff series’ being hosted throughout the state by the top four seeds in each the Jayhawk East and West Divisions. The Seward County Community College baseball team finished the regular season with a 36-20 overall record, and with a share of the Jayhawk West Conference title. The Saints ended up with the No. 2 seed in the Jayhawk West after four games against Barton County Community College did not count towards Region VI seeding (Barton County on KJCCC/NJCAA probation). The Saints host Independence Community College (29-25), who were in second place in the Jayhawk East Conference, before dropping five of their last seven conference games.

The Saints and Pirates will play a best two-of-three series this weekend at Brent Gould Field in Liberal, with the winner advancing to the eight-team Region VI Tournament in Wichita, at Lawrence Dumont Stadium May 11-15. The first round playoff begins on Saturday with Game 1 scheduled at 1 p.m. and Game 2 starting 30 minutes following the completion of the first game. If both teams each win a game on Saturday, Game 3 will be played on Sunday at 1 p.m. All post-season games are nine-inning games with a 10-run mercy rule after seven-innings.

Seward County finished the season red-hot winning 20 of their last 26 games and with rankings in the final two weeks of the NJCAA Top 20 poll at No. 19 (April 25) and at No. 18 (May 2). The Saints also dominated the Jayhawk West All-Conference selections with sophomore Erik Hegstad (Most Valuable Player) and freshman Christian Kowalchuk (Freshman of the Year) receiving top conference honors. A total of six Seward County players were named to the First and Second Teams, with four first team picks and two second team selections.

The Saints line-up has carried them into the post-season with a No. 2 seeding while averaging seven runs a game with a team batting average of .317. The Saints have a powerful line-up with four players logging over 10 doubles and three players launching at least 10 home runs.

Seward County’s offense is powered by middle of the order hitters, Tanner Rindels (.391, 12 HR, 54 RBI), Toby Davis (.339, 11 HR, 56 RBI) and Erik Hegstad (.359, 12 HR, 47 RBI). This First Team All-Conference trio of sophomores have combined for a .363 (185-for-509) batting average, with 146 runs scored, 39 doubles, nine triples, 35 home runs, 157 RBI and are 12-of-13 in stolen bases.

The Saints starting pitching rotation is highlighted by four freshmen (Kowalchuk, Jordan McClintick, Tomas Cruz and Nathaniel Weems) who have combined to start 39 of the Saints 56 games this season. Kowalchuk is the ace of the staff. The freshman left-hander from Saskatoon, Canada, is among conference leaders in wins (8), earned run average (3.75), innings pitched (72), complete games (6) and strikeouts (65). McClintick is 7-3 for the Saints with a 3.86 ERA in eight starts. Cruz ranks second on the team in strikeouts (42) and innings pitched (58), having tallied a 5-2 record with three complete games. Weems owns the teams lowest ERA at 2.96, with 51.2 innings pitched, and has collected 27 strikeouts.

Seward County’s bullpen has been a strength lately with sophomore Eric Everson (4-3, 2 saves, 32 SO), and freshmen Tyler Binkley (1-4, 2 saves, 20 SO) and Karl Whitley (2-3, 2 saves, 31 SO) recording the majority of the innings.

Independence fifth year head coach Jon Olsen has guided the Pirates to a school-record 29 wins this season. Independence is led offensively by right fielder Tino Robbins (.384, 11 doubles, 32 RBI), Jon Nagel (.341, 12 doubles, seven home runs, 37 RBI) and Vince Pironti (.377, 21 RBI), who all earned Jayhawk East All-Conference honors. The Pirates pitching staff has 13 right-handed arms with only two left-handers. The Pirates starting rotation has been led this season by Nagel (5-3, 2.59 ERA), Josh Beal (4.3, 3.72 ERA) and Tyler Guilliams (4-4, 3.29 ERA). Olsen has two of the better relievers statistically in the Region VI with Logan Dotson (6-2, one save, 1.96 ERA, 53 SO) and Joe Villamonte (1-2, 1.26 ERA, 50 SO) leading the way.

The winner of the playoff series in Liberal will advance to play the winner of Johnson County Community College (29-18)/Pratt Community College (19-27), at 9 a.m. on Friday, May 11 at Lawrence Dumont Stadium in Wichita. The No. 3 seeded Johnson County C.C. Cavaliers plays host to the No. 6 seeded Pratt C.C. Beavers this weekend in Overland Park, Kan.