There were plenty of things that went Adrian Dinkel's way for him to become the top NAIA baseball coach in the nation.
The Southeastern Fire head coach won the Rawlings-NAIA Coach of the Year award for a second time — he also won it in 2018 — and both times Southeastern finished as NAIA World Series champ.
Of course, Dinkel will be the first to tell you that his and the team’s success are due to the Fire’s assistant coaches — Erik Dahl, Mike Mendoza, Austin James and Connor Dailey.
“Analytically it was finding good assistant coaches that could help you coach those players and find good players,” Dinkel said. “Obviously, you can’t just narrow down to one thing that I did. It was collectively as a whole.”
However, Dinkel was able to reflect on what it meant to be NAIA Coach of the Year for the second time in four years.
“It means a lot to me," he said. "Obviously, the main reward is winning a national championship and seeing those kids grow. But it means a lot because people are showing you a lot of love. They understand what you’ve done.”
What Dinkel and the entire coaching staff did was take a team that was ranked No. 1 in the coach’s poll all year long and lead them to a 59-4 record, win a fourth regular-season and Sun Conference Championship since 2018, go 6-1 in the World Series tournament, and win a second World Series national championship in four seasons.
The team had four All-Americans — pitcher Robb Adams, designated hitter Gary Lora, second baseman Brian Fuentes and outfielder Abdel Guadalupe) — and eight All-Conference players (Adams, catcher Luis Cabrera, Lora, Fuentes, shortstop Isaac Nunez, Guadalupe, pitcher Drew Gillespie, third baseman Sam Faith, outfielder Thomas Broyles) and one Pitcher of the Year (Adams).
Building a national champion
Still, this team was not built overnight.
Two years ago, the Fire were rolling along with a 26-1 record, but then the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the season. Players from that team, including Faith, Cabrera and Guadalupe, were instrumental on the road to glory in 2022.
“You have those guys that kind of started that momentum and what we were about," Dinkel said. " And obviously from there, you kind of pieced it together from last year to this year.
"This is a three-year cycle. You are building those guys through three years, so I think it was an overall build. As you’re going, you’re removing and putting guys in place that you feel like fit who we are and what we’re about at Southeastern and the type of players and leaders they can be ... so it’s a three-year cycle to get that right.”
Those players have also been able to avoid major injuries, though Faith missed a few weeks. In fact, at least one minor setback helped the Fire. Outfielder Clayton Keys injured his hamstring, which put Jose Marcano on the field. Marcano went on to hit .343 with 35 hits, six homers and 31 RBI.
“We didn’t have any season-ending injuries,” Dinkel said. “We just had a bunch of guys that were beat up, tired and worn out. They just got beat up just staying in the grind of playing hard.
"Obviously, championship teams, you’re blessed to keep most of your team healthy. And I think a lot of that has to do with our athletic training staff keeping them healthy. BJ Geasa did an unbelievable job getting our guys on the field every day.”
Dinkel also said in his 11 years as a coach, this was his deepest team to date. With a stacked deck, he was able to play 14 position players a game.
Different players were used to pinch run or play as defensive replacements. Dinkel would often replace Fuentes, the team’s best offensive player, with Adrian Mella, the team’s best defensive outfielder, late in a game. Dinkel could also put in infielder Enrique Porchas to either play defense or pinch hit.
And outfielder Zach Diewert, who for much of the year had an injured hand, would come off the bench and produce some key at-bats.
“Without a doubt in my coaching career, (this is) the most used group and most puzzle pieces I put together, or my coaching staff has ever put together," Dinkel said. "We were using people in every way you can ever think of."
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Southeastern's Adrian Dinkel named NAIA Baseball Coach of the Year