Diamond Dawgs lose at NBC, still alive in title chase

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Several Santa Barbara players watch with disappointment as Cheney catcher Brett McGee catches a foul ball for an out in the bottom of the third. Travis Mounts photo

WICHITA – The Cheney Diamond Dawgs lost their first game of this year’s National Baseball Congress World Series, but last year’s runners-up are still in the hunt for their first-ever NBC title.

Cheney lost 5-1 to the Santa Barbara Foresters. With the win in Saturday’s early game, Santa Barbara earns a spot in Monday’s championship.

Cheney now plays at 6 p.m. Sunday. They will face a familiar foe in the Hutchinson Monarchs, who won 10-4 over the Houston Express in Saturday’s late game. Sunday’s game is a rematch between the top two teams during the 2020 Sunflower Collegiate League season. Both teams finished with 23-6 records, but the Monarchs won the SCL title based on head-to-head games. Cheney won the SCL in 2019, and went on to place second in the 2019 World Series.

The winner of Sunday’s game moves into Monday’s championship. Because this is a true double-elimination tournament, Sunday’s winner will need to beat Santa Barbara twice on Monday, but Santa Barbara would need just a single victory to eliminate its opponent.

Mistakes hurt the Diamond Dawgs early. A bad pickoff through to third base allowed a run in the bottom of the first inning. A past ball was allowed another run in the second inning. 

Cheney starter Zach Bravo struggled with control and wasn’t helped as the Dawgs committed four errors while allowing 4 earned runs through 3-1/3 innings. Santa Barbara added two more runs in the fourth inning, thanks to a Cheney error and a triple.

The Diamond Dawgs did give their fans at Eck Stadium something to cheer about in the top of the ninth inning. Lenny Ashby got a pinch-hit single to start the inning. He came home on Jackson Glenn’s triple that stayed just inside the bag and went all the way to the left field corner.

Cheney left three runners on base, including two that were picked off to end innings while trying to steal second.

The Diamond Dawgs won their first two games of the NBC. After a first-round bye, the Dawgs beat the Colorado Cyclones 5-3 on Tuesday night at Eck Stadium. Cheney then edged the Hays Larks 2-1 on Thursday on the Wichita State campus.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, a number of summer collegiate leagues did not hold their seasons. With fewer teams playing and other uncertainties, this year’s NBC was cut down to one week with 13 teams playing in a double-elimination tournament.

The original plan was for the second week of the NBC to be played Wichita’s new Riverfront Stadium. However, the stadium never opened as the entirety of the Minor League Baseball season was cancelled. Instead, most games have been played at WSU, with some games in Hutchinson.