A month ago, when the College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene renewed their rivalry on the baseball diamond for the first time since 2007, coach Shawn Humberger admitted having butterflies in his belly, nervous about playing the rivalry game again.
A month later, after his Coyotes took the finale of the four-game series 11-4 on Tuesday at Wolfe Field in Caldwell, Humberger again reflected on the series, which the C of I won 3 games to 1.
“It's huge,” Humberger said of winning the season series. “I don't hold anything back on the deal, this series is as important to us as a league series to be honest with you, one because it's a rivalry, two because it's wins, if you win, and you've got a chance at a ranking.
“These games mean something to us if we're going to get an at-large berth to the (NAIA) national tournament as well.
“But even if they didn't, it's a rivalry game,” Humberger added. “We've developed a rivalry over the years, I know it's kind of died without playing (since 2007), but still, I guarantee they want to win as bad as we want to win.”
With the win, the Yotes now hold a 163-56 edge in the all-time series, which began in 1937.
But Tuesday's series finale victory is a big one, like Humberger said, as the NAIA released its first Top 25 rankings of the season mid-game, and the Coyotes checked in at No. 22.
A big deal, as the national tournament will be made up of the top 45 teams in the land, with plenty of at-large berths to be handed out, but you need to be in the Top 25 to realistically think about getting one of those at-large bids.
That's important, as the automatic bid for the Coyotes depends on winning the NAIA West tournament, a five-team affair that will be hosted by Concordia.
That means the whole season could boil down to one weekend – which it did last year with the C of I making the title game of the regional, only to fall one win short of nationals.
So, why the win won't count in league standings, it adds to the Coyotes record, and keeps them rolling after the C of I took 2-of-4 from Lewis-Clark State a week ago in Lewiston, and 3-of-4 from British Columbia.
In the other dugout, NNU coach Tim Onofrei didn't downplay the rivalry one bit, either.
“The rivalry side of it, any sports program is going to have it's cross-town rival or it's going to have it's two programs that match up and play hard every time,” he said. “They're a good ball club, and I tip my hat to them and they'll do very well this year.
“I have nothing to say other than they took 3-of-4 games from to us, which means they were better than us this year.”
But, being a non-league game, and a rivalry that no player on either side has experienced, did it mean as much?
“I think any game we play is important, for me,” Onofrei added. “I don't know how to do anything but compete, I don't care if it's C of I, I don't care if we're playing a Babe Ruth team, I want to go out and win and if we don't win I'm not happy about it. I'm going to try and fix it, we'll try to adjust and figure out what it takes.”
Fix a rough patch the Crusaders have hit, after starting the season 10-3. Since, NNU has gone 5-9, including a 4-6 GNAC mark that included being swept on the road March 9-10 at Western Oregon.
That might have been a turning point for NNU, which had a chance to get a game from the Wolves on the first day of the series, but lost 3-2 in extra innings after on a bases loaded hit batter.
“We have to get back to playing together,” Onofrei said, “we're playing independently in a lot of facets of the game and we've been grinding really hard for four weeks. We're going to take these next two days, since we have a bye weekend, and step away from the game and try to just refresh our brains.
“These kids are hard working kids, they want to be successful, they want to do the right things, but when they're not mentally sharp, like you saw today, the game will hurt you, and we got hurt.”
Fortunately, there's plenty of time for NNU to get back on a roll, with three league weekends remaining at home after they return to the diamond April 6-7 for a series at Central Washington.