QUINCY, Ill. – The baseball teams from Ashland University and Grand Valley State were supposed to play a four-game set at Donges Field in early April.
The Eagles and Lakers only got two games in that weekend, each winning one. The rubber match came seven weeks later at the 2016 NCAA Division II Midwest Regional on Friday (May 20) night, with AU coming out on top, 4-3.
"It was a great college baseball game," said Ashland head coach John Schaly.
Ashland (33-20), the Midwest's No. 6 seed, advances to the regional's winners' bracket final on Saturday (May 21) at 8 p.m. Eastern against No. 4 Southern Indiana (35-19).
Grand Valley State, the tournament's No. 2 seed, got on the board with a run in the top of the first inning, but Ashland took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second on a two-run, two-out home run by junior catcher Adam Vasil.
The Lakers' next threat came in the top of the seventh, when a double/potential triple was turned into the first out of the inning at third base on an 8-6-5 relay. Two batters later, however, a two-run GVSU homer put the Eagles down, 3-2.
Ashland answered in the bottom of the seventh with a two-run blast of its own – this one coming from freshman pinch-hitter Nic Varda with two outs. Varda's shot, a line drive which barely cleared the right-field wall, was his first collegiate round-tripper – and the Eagles' first pinch-homer of 2016.
"I just went up to bat telling myself, 'You have to do something here,'" Varda said. "It's just great to be a part of this, playing with some of the best guys I've ever played with."
Nic Varda Home Run
"What a clutch hit," Schaly said. "Nic's been swinging the bat very well. He's going to be a special player down the road. What a clutch at-bat."
That was enough for senior right-handed pitcher Jake Baldwin, who improved to 5-0 on his injury-filled season and 23-2 on his Eagle career with a gutty performance. His first complete game of the season was a seven-hitter, as he struck out 12 and allowed three runs and three hits.
"There's nothing that can beat it right now," said Baldwin, who had 82 strikes among his 126 pitches. "This feeling's just surreal. It's unbelievable.
"I was giving everything I had today. That's about all I had. This is probably the most exciting game I've ever pitched in."
Said Schaly, "He's been waiting for this opportunity all year long. He missed 7-8 starts, but there was no way you were going to take him out of the game tonight.
"He's a special kind of guy. He's a bulldog."
Ashland got eight hits from eight different players, including sophomore third baseman J.P. Sorma, who increased his hitting streak to 27 games.
THE NOTEBOOK: Nine of Ashland's 12 runs in the first two games of the Midwest Regional have come with two outs…Varda is 12-for-24 with 11 RBIs in 17 varsity games this spring…The Eagles are 16-2 when leading after seven innings in 2016.