The Bruins wrapped up their season on the diamond with an appearance in the Avista-NAIA World Series May 24-28 at Harris Field in Lewiston, ID.
Bellevue finished 2-2 in the World Series by losing the opening game in the double-elimination tournament — snapping a 26-game win streak — before winning the next two and then falling just one-game shy of the semifinals.
“It’s everyone’s goal at the beginning of the year to get to the World Series for a chance to, possibly, play for a national championship,” Bellevue coach Duane Monlux said. “But getting there is so difficult. Not a lot of teams get the opportunity, so it was a lot of fun and we gave it our best shot.”
After making the NAIA World Series 12 times from 1998-2008, the Bruins have made the championship tournament twice since 2008, including when they advanced to the semifinals in 2016 for their best finish under Monlux.
Bellevue’s season started low, but trended up continuously since March. The inclined performance was due in part of the competition the Bruins faced to open the first month and the first 21 games of the season being on the road.
The Bruins opened the season with a three-game series against Science & Arts (Okla.) before playing tournament games against Central Methodist twice, Oklahoma City, Webber International, St. Thomas (Fla.) and then a three-game series against Keiser.
Bellevue finished 4-8 against those top 25 opponents with Science & Arts and St. Thomas, eventually, advancing to the World Series, too.
“We had a brutal schedule at the beginning and it didn’t equate to a lot of wins for us,” Monlux said. “I think that’s a credit to this team for even when things weren’t going well, they stuck together, believed in the process and then it turned around. That just doesn’t happen too often.”
After sitting at 7-13 through the first 20 games, the Bruins won 39 out of their next 40 games.
“There’s a fine line between being confident and arrogant. They understood the difference and we went into games with confidence. Sometimes when you go on a streak like that or win a bunch of games, players get cocky and take a different approach,” Monlux said
The last 40 games of the season led to Bellevue winning the regular season North Star Athletic Conference title with a 23-1 conference record, winning their conference tournament and the NAIA Opening Round in Louisiana to advance to the World Series in Idaho.
Before heading to Idaho, the Bruins’ superb play led to 13 All-NSAA selections. Out of the 13 selections, nine were selected to the first team (senior catcher Travis Tanaka, junior first baseman Riley Baasch, junior second baseman Cody Banks, senior shortstop Kory Longaker, senior third baseman JT Patterson, senior outfielder Stuart Eurich and junior outfielder Tommy Hansen, senior pitcher Stephen Knapp and junior pitcher Jarrett Poh), while two earned second team honors (senior outfielder Austin Alexander and junior catcher Hunter Jury), and two were honorable mention (junior pitchers Colton Walker and Derek Browne).
Patterson and Knapp earned NSAA Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, respectively, to go with their first-team selections.
“I know we had some good players. To have that many guys on the first team all-conference and seven of the nine represented on the Gold Glove,” Monlux said. “I just think its shows a team with complete baseball players not just someone who can hit or field. It’s because we all did it together.”
In its first round matchup of the World Series, BU took on eighth-seeded Indiana Tech. After trailing 2-0, the Bruins scored one in the sixth and one in the ninth to force extra innings. Tech was able to plate the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th for the 3-2 win and the Bruins dropped into the loser’s bracket.
“I thought we pitched well enough and played defense well enough,” Monlux said. “We just didn’t play well offensively... When you get to that stage, you have to do the little things well enough.”
Bellevue then met fourth-seeded Faulkner — third-ranked team in NAIA polls — where they fell behind 5-0 in the second before the Bruins scored all 11 runs in the bottom of the second and third innings for an 11-8 victory. The win led to a matchup against 10th-seeded Lewis-Clark State.
“The ability for us to bounce back and beat a Faulkner team, who’s a perennial World Series team and a national contender every year,” Monlux said. “To be able to get them in a losers-out game was huge because our backs were against the wall, especially with us being down 5-0 to start the game.”
The Warriors tallied a run in the first and then the Bruins took a 2-1 lead in the fifth before adding two insurance runs in the eighth to combat a Warrior run in the bottom of the ninth for a 4-2 win.
The victory moved the Bruins one-win shy of the semifinals with a matchup against fifth-seeded Georgia Gwinnett — which was fourth in NAIA polls. A three-spot in the first and four-spot in the fourth for Georgia Gwinnett downed Bellevue 9-3 to end the season with a 48-16 record.
Bellevue loses nine seniors, six of which were on the all-NSAA team with the other three providing solid backup support. Mitch Savine and Brandon Desjardins were one-two, respectively, in pitching appearances, while Brandon Sparks hit .294 in 51 at bats as the backup outfielder.
“We just have to evaluate what we have coming back,” Monlux. “See what our weaknesses are to strengthen and fill in those weaknesses. We always try and establish a pitching staff. That’s area No. 1 every year and then fill in some spots and try to stay healthy next year.”
One of the bigger feats this season for the Bruins was finishing 12-0 at home despite the weather. Out of the 12 home games, five were played at Brown Park — the Bruin’s home field — and seven at Don Roddy Field.
“For us playing at home is a nice thing and we expect to win about all of those games. But that’s what makes this year so special is because we had to do most of it on the road,” Monlux said.
Having the opportunity to play in the NAIA World Series is a special moment the Bruins will never forget. But one of Bellevue’s best memories from Idaho was the Teaming-Up For Character event, where all 10 teams entered the community to give back to the kids in the area.
“Them just having a great experience with it and having a lot of fun,” Monlux said. “The kids at the elementary schools just have a blast with them. For our guys, it seems like they get treated like a Major Leaguer.
“Those kids flock to them and it was just a great time to be there and we just wanted them to enjoy it.”