Express beats back late Liberal comeback

Mark Schnabel
Liberal BeeJay Tyler Delong singles during play Friday against the Houston Express.

WICHITA — The Houston Express reached the final four of the 56th National Baseball Congress World Series Friday night, holding off the Liberal BeeJays 5-4 Friday night in the fourth consolation round at Eck Stadium.

Houston avenges a 9-5 loss to the BeeJays in the first round and advances to the consolation quarterfinals Saturday against either the Hays Larks or Hutchinson Monarchs.

With Houston leading 5-2, Liberal left the bases loaded in the top of the eighth and scored in the ninth on an RBI single by Cayde Ward and a sacrifice fly by Tyler Delong.

“One of the good things about this team is if you looked at our second game and in the third round, we had to come back ourselves,” Houston manager Robert VanNieuwenhuyzen said. “I told these guys after the first game that we play every single out. By doing that, it not only prevents teams from coming back on us, it keeps us in the game. The Liberal BeeJays are a good team. You can’t take anything away from them. They got us in the first round. I’m glad we got them in this round. They are a class team to play against.”

The previous best finish for the Express was 11th in 2017.

“The format of this tournament, double elimination, that’s what we’re geared for,” VanNieuwenhuyzen said. “We go to Canada every year, the CFI and Kamloops tournament and that’s the way they play. Playing pool (formats), you kind of get a little lax. We found that out the last couple years. We had the (Cheney) Diamond Dawgs, Spokane, the Seattle Studs and San Diego Waves.”

Gales DeVaughn drove in two runs for the Express. Myles Jefferson finished two for three with an RBI.

“We just had to be ready to play,” DeVaughn said of the final two innings. “We had to shut them down.”

In a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Negro National League, Houston wore replica jerseys of the Homestead Grays, while Liberal wore the jerseys of the Kansas City Monarchs.

“I’m not very familiar with (the Grays), but my grandfather used to talk to me all the time about the Negro leagues,” DeVaughn said. “I was pretty excited to put on those jerseys today.”

Houston took the lead in the third inning when DeVaughn hit a two-run double and came home on a Jacob Gonzalez single.

“It was a 2-0 count, and I was looking for a fastball,” DeVaughn said.

Liberal got on the board in the fifth inning on a Kade Brewer RBI double and a Bryce Donovan RBI single.

The Express countered in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI single for Jefferson and a run scoring on an error.

Liberal drew a pair of walks to open the top of the eighth inning. The BeeJays then loaded the bases after a pair of strikeouts, but a ground out ended the rally.

Phillip Jones pitched the win for Houston. Brad Wilcott finished the game for the save. Cal Carver took the loss for Liberal.

VanNieuwenhuyzen said he has no preference for Saturday.

“Hutchinson and Hays are both teams of renown,” VanNieuwenhuyzen said. “Hays has been to the championships. You have to respect both teams year-in and year-out.”

Liberal BeeJay pitcher Cal Carver wears the colors of the Kansas City Monarchs at the NBC World Series, honoring the centennial of the Negro National League.