By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
From the stands, fans find it easy to question a baseball coach.
Why did he pull that pitcher?
Why did he leave that pitcher in the game?
But for Galen McSpadden, who has been coaching the Saints for more than 30 years, it is not a random process, but following a pattern of events that unfold in a story that becomes the game.
“Baseball is a book,” McSpadden said. “Every game, every series, if you read that book, the game will tell you what you need to do.”
The key is to try to be a sentence, a page, even a chapter ahead.
That’s what McSpadden did when he left Logan Hall in the game against Garden City after giving up a grand slam. He also looked ahead in the championship game and instead of keeping Keegan Hucul for a possible “if” game against Colby brought him in to finish the game from the fifth inning to the ninth. Hucul only gave up two hits to preserve the Saints 5-2 win.
McSpadden simply followed the story line and wrote the next chapter.
“We read the book,” he said. “We have the ability. We did not want to go to a fourth game. We felt we had a better shot at winning if we poured everything into first game and then piece together then next game if we needed to. We still had some arms. Hucul was not our last resort. We still had (Jose) Gonzalez, (Tyler)Hill — good fresh arms. Hucul has thrown better out of the pen.”
By studying Hucul’s book throughout the Spring, McSpadden knew that with a 3-2 lead he didn’t need to save Hucul for a second game. By bringing him in early, he put Hucul in a more comfortable position, something Hucul has done before, and in the championship, he did it again.
“You have to pay attention and read the book of the game, and he was the guy that surfaced,” McSpadden said. “When you add up all the observations, it was a good decision.”
McSpadden has been adding chapters to his coaching book since the 1980s, and what may seem strange to the fan is simply a coach evaluating the situation, examining his available personnel, and then reaching a decision to put his team in the best possible position for success.
Leaving Hall in a game after giving up a grand slam was another calculated decision earlier in the tournament, and it, too, proved to be the right call.
Hall settled in and protected Seward’s lead the rest of the way.
The result is the Saints second trip to the NJCAA College World Series since 2004.
“We were happy to get there the first year, we had no idea what to expect,” McSpadden said. “This is different. We are on a mission. These guys want to go win it. They don’t want to just get there. They are capable.”
Last year, the Hutchinson Blue Dragons represented Region VI at the College World Series and finished third in the nation.
“We dominated Hutch, and they go get third,” McSpadden said. “If we can keep this streak going, these kids believe they can beat anyone.”
McSpadden is also looking at another book with this team, perhaps a fairy tale.
This team earned the school’s 1,000th win when they traveled to Cloud and earned a four-game sweep.
Assistant coach Mike Davidson was in Wichita at the time while his wife was in surgery, and several Saints were out with illness and injury.
But they still swept Cloud.
They went on to win the Jayhawk West championship and finished the season with a 26-6 run that included a three-game sweep of the Super Regional at Brent Gould Field and then another three-game sweep at the Region VI Championship series at Lawrence Dumont Stadium.
The team earned 44 wins, the most since 2004.
A perfect ending would be the school’s first baseball national championship.
But to do that, McSpadden has to continue reading the book that has guided his team to Grand Junction, Colo.
“There’s something special about this team,” he said. “A championship team can police themselves. As coaches, we got out of their way. These kids deserve this. They keep getting better.”