A year ago, Cowley College emerged from the Region VI baseball tournament with a berth in the NJCAA World Series.
The Tigers (39-16) return this weekend to Lawrence-Dumont Stadium to replicate that feat. Cowley, the tournament’s second seed behind Hutchinson (ranked third nationally), will kick off this year’s tournament at 1 p.m. Friday against No. 10 seed Fort Scott (37-22).
Relief pitcher Mason LeClair, a sophomore from Mulvane, said going to the national tournament last year in Grand Junction, Colo., fueled a desire for a return trip.
“That was a great time,” he said. “I want to go back, not for myself, but for the freshmen. This group of sophomores, we’re pretty tight, and I’d like to see us all experience it.”
Cowley has had a propensity to recruit in-state talent, and this season is no different. The Tigers have 16 Kansans on their 31-man roster.
LeClair said that was a reason for heading down the road about 40 miles.
“Growing up in Mulvane, I was drawn to Cowley because of its winning tradition and where people go after that,” he said.
After being part of the Tigers’ bullpen a year ago, LeClair recently took over the closer’s role.
“I’m just trying to get innings,” said LeClair, who has signed to play at N.C.-Charlotte next season. “Whatever the team needs me to do. I just like to pitch.”
He has done that quite well this season, bringing a 2-0 record and team-leading 1.76 ERA with four saves. He has walked seven in 30 2/3 innings while striking out 36.
Cowley coach Dave Burroughs, in his 30th season, said LeClair has the confidence required in a good closer.
“He’s grown into (the closer’s role) and is very competitive,” Burroughs said. “He doesn’t shy away from the moment. We’re proud of him. We like him out there late.”
When the Tigers and Greyhounds begin Friday, another Kansan, right-hander Garrett Hutson of El Dorado, will start for Cowley. He has a 5-2 record and his 2.18 ERA is second only to LeClair on the Cowley staff. He has 62 strikeouts against 17 walks in 57 2/3 innings.
Yet another local can be found in the catching rotation. Dalton Dinkel, an Eisenhower product, is in the Tigers’ catching rotation.
He has stepped right in as a freshman after playing for his father Cary at Eisenhower.
Burroughs said Dalton has been strong as a catcher and at the plate. He carries a .350 batting average – fifth on the team – and has started 29 of 41 games.
“He’s played well,” Burroughs said. “He gets a lot out of his ability and calls a good game.”
Should the Tigers get to Grand Junction, Dinkel has heard about the experience from sophomore teammates.
“They said it’s a great experience,” Dinkel said, “even though they lost two games.”
Once the season ends, both Dinkel and LeClair will be playing summer ball close to home. Dinkel will play for the River City Lumberjacks in Wichita, and LeClair will pitch for the Derby Twins.
Region VI baseball
- At Lawrence-Dumont Stadium
- Friday’s Games
- Barton (40-16) vs. Neosho County (38-19), 10 a.m.
- Fort Scott (37-22) vs. Cowley (37-16), 1 p.m.
- Hutchinson (43-11) vs. Kansas City (38-18), 4 p.m.
- Dodge City (23-12) vs. Johnson County (43-13), 7 p.m.