SPRINGFIELD, MO – Anyone who's planted a garden knows that just because a seed is placed in the ground, there is no guarantee it will reach fruition. Weather and woodchucks can interrupt the best-laid plans.
When seeds are assigned to teams in a college baseball tournament, similar perils exist. At the 2013 Midwest Region Baseball Championships, Ashland was the top seed in the field and Drury, the host institution, was the second seed. Both lost on Thursday, the opening day of play and found themselves matched against each other on Friday (May 17) in an elimination game at Meador Park.
Thanks to excellent pitching and a run in the top of the ninth inning, AU kept its season alive with a 3-2 triumph. The win sends the Eagles into a Saturday afternoon game with an opponent that has yet to be determined. To make it to Sunday, the final day of the tournament, Ashland will need to win twice on Saturday.
"We feel we've got a shot," said AU head coach John Schaly. "Until we have that second loss we believe we can win this thing. We like our pitching and we think we have enough pitching."
AU (37-18) opened the tourney with a 13-10 loss to sixth seed Bellarmine. Drury fell to fifth seed Lewis, 11-8.
With the score tied, 2-2 in the ninth inning Friday, shortstop Austin Walts (Amherst, Ohio/Amherst Steele) singled up the middle. Pinch-hitter Stephen James (Westlake, Ohio) bounced a single over the head of first baseman Colton Jones into right field and that got Walts to third base. Third baseman Wade Kaido (Zanesville, Ohio) produced a sacrifice fly to right field that got Walts home.
"Wade's been swinging it well since the GLIAC tournament," noted Schaly. "Really, he's been swinging it well the whole postseason."
In the bottom of the ninth, the Panthers (39-17) got the bases loaded with two outs against reliever Zach Botjer (Deshler, Ohio/Sinclair C.C.). With the count 2-2, Botjer threw a called third strike past shortstop Caleb Cole. The gave Botjer the save, his eighth of the season.
Friday's game pitted a pair of sophomore right-handed starters, GLIAC pitcher of the year and first team all-region selection Jake Baldwin (Madison Heights, Mich./Lamphere) for Ashland and Trevor Richards for the Panthers. Baldwin entered with a 7-0 record and a 1.51 ERA. Richards was 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA. Batters were hitting .218 against Baldwin and .222 against Richards.
The Eagles took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Kaido singled to left field and came around to score on designated hitter Mackenzie Hampshire's (Delphos, Ohio/Elida) ringing double to left-center field. The two-bagger was the 11th of the season and second of the tournament for Hampshire. He's tied for second on the team in doubles. Hampshire's double was the lone extra-base hit of the game.
The Eagles left the bases loaded in the fourth inning. First baseman Tyler Gray (Plain City, Ohio/Jonathan Alder) opened the inning with a single and Richards hit both center fielder Alex Sortwell (San Mateo, Calif./Canada College) and Walts with pitches. With two outs, Richards squelched the rally by getting second baseman Matt Gundlach (Monroeville, Ohio/Sandusky Perkins) on a fly ball to right field.
The Panthers tied the game in the bottom of the fourth. Cole singled to left and designated hitter Payton Reed, the Great Lakes Valley Conference freshman of the year, singled through the hole at shortstop. Cole was running on the pitch, which allowed him to get to third base. Center field Matt Borgschulte hit into a fielder's choice at second base which got Cole home.
Drury had a runner thrown out at home plate in the first inning. With two outs, Gray mishandled a ground ball to first. Left fielder Nick Thimsech, who had walked and reached second on a stolen base, tried to come home and was out when Gundlach retrieved the ball and fired a strike to catcher John Broll (Mississagua, Ont./Genesee C.C.).
That play set a tone for the day. The Panthers could get runners on base - they stranded 10 - but they rarely broke through against Baldwin.
"He pounded the strike zone," said Gray. "He threw strikes and trusted his defense."
The Eagles went in front, 2-1 in the top of the fifth. Kaido banged out his third consecutive single, advanced to second base on left fielder Austin Erb's (Mechanicsville,Va./Hanover) sacrifice bunt, and scored on a Hampshire single.
The Panthers drew even in the bottom of sixth on Reed's sacrifice fly to center field. That scored first baseman Colton Johnson, who opened the inning by getting nicked by a Baldwin pitch.
Baldwin got the win, going eight innings and allowing two runs on six hits. He walked three and struck out two.
"It was another outstanding pitching performance from Jake," Schaly said. "Zach pitched well, too. Zach kept battling with a tight strike zone."
Richards lasted 8.2 innings and sustained the loss. He gave up three runs on eight hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Ashland had nine hits. Three players – Kaido, Hampshire and Gray – accounted for seven of the Eagles' nine hits. Kaido had three safeties and Hampshire and Gray had two each.
"I think we're hitting, they just haven't always been falling," said Gray. "You can control the process, you just can't control where they go."