Stroup, Foerschler Earn KCKCC Post-Season Baseball Awards
Blue Devils finish 33-25 despite epidemic of late inning setbacks
Steve Burleson has worked with a lot of outstanding hitters in his 36 years at Kansas City Kansas Community College including a pair of major leaguers, David Segui and Kevin Young.
He had another one this year in Travis Stroup, a freshman from Lee's Summit West who was named the Blue Devils' Most Valuable Player after leading the team in hitting (.411), home runs (6), extra base hits (37) and runs-batted-in (66). "He's one of the five best hitters I've worked with," said Burleson. A third baseman, Stroup transferred from the University of Central Missouri but did not play there.
Tanner Foerschler, a sophomore first baseman from Harrisonville, was named the recipient of the Mike Haen Hustle Award. A .376 hitter with 53 RBI, Burleson said Foerschler was "A dream to coach, he took everything we gave him and added an incredible amount of work ethic to become the player he is. He's going to make William Jewell a fine addition to its program."
The pair helped lead the Blue Devils to a 33-25 season. "This team was unlike any other team I've ever worked with," said Burleson. "Wonderful kids who compiled a 3.26 grade point average the first semester and raised more than $70,000. Very respectful and great citizens, I admire and respect them for all their accomplishments including twice beating the No. 1 team in the country at the time (Johnson County). Unfortunately, the fact remains down the stretch we couldn't figure out a way to hold leads in the late innings."
As a team, the Blue Devils hit .342 and averaged nearly eight runs a game only to give up 6.44 earned runs per contest. "Every team knows offense and defense won't balance exactly," said Burleson. "If you're short defensively, you need to score more runs. If you don't have a power packed offense you have to defend and pitch better. We felt we were going to have the offense to score enough runs to overcome the shortcomings we had with a basically inexperienced mound staff but we suffered so much giving up runs in late innings it was epidemic."
The most damaging meltdown came in the second game of the sub-regional playoffs at Butler. After a 13-7 win in the opener of the best-of-three series, the Blue Devils couldn't hold a 7-3 lead in the ninth inning and an 8-7 lead in the 10th of a 9-8 loss. Butler then eliminated KCKCC on Sunday, stranding 17 runners in a 6-2 win. "We didn't lose the sub-regional on Sunday; we lost it on Saturday. We had a 7-3 lead going into the ninth. If you're going to win the sub-regional, you can't give up a lead like that."
With Cowley (49-3) ranked No. 1 and Johnson County (48-9) ranked 4, KCKCC played in arguably the toughest baseball conference in the nation but finished fifth in the final standings (16-20), just missing out on a home playoff berth by losing five of eight games to Allen County and Fort Scott the final two weeks of the season.
Graduation will strip the Blue Devils of six .300 plus hitters headed by centerfielder Alex Thrower, who hit .388 and had a spectacular .525 on-base percentage. "The consummate leadoff man," said Burleson. Other key losses will include shortstop Landon Mason, who hit .373with 47 RBI; second basemen Sam Baxter (.353) and Tyler Raymond (.331), who rotated between second and designated hitter; and rightfield Daniel LaMunyon, an all-conference pick as a freshman who hit .314 and led the region in stolen bases with 32.
Pitching losses will include starters Jonathan May, who led the staff in wins (6-3); Brandon Martinkus (5-3), Preston Bailey (3-4) and Dustin Eby (4-7) and relievers Derek Watkins (1-2) and LaMunyon (1-3), who had five of the staff's eight saves. Tyler Hull, who was 5-1 with a 5.24 ERA, and Dalton Kincaid (1-0, 4.18) who pitched well in the sub-regional, head the returning staff.