The Ashland University baseball team found itself in a dog fight against the Truman State Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon (May 17) in the 2015 NCAA Midwest Region Championship game. The Eagles rallied twice to tie or take the lead in the final three innings, but ultimately fell 6-3 to the No. 4-seed Bulldogs.
The loss ends the No. 6-seed Eagles' campaign at 38-19. Truman State will advance onto the 2015 NCAA Division II World Series in Cary, N.C. The 35-20 Bulldogs are in midst of their first winning since since their 1982 squad.
The first inning looked promising for the Eagles, as senior second baseman Stephen James led off the game with a base hit to right field. James was erased on the base paths after junior right fielder Mike Lewandowski grounded a ball to the shortstop, and the fielder opted to get the out at second. Next up was the junior first baseman Mackenzie Hampshire, who lined a ball through the right side of the infield to put runners on first and second.
The Eagle four-hole batter, Blake Bellman, drew a walk, which set up a bases-loaded situation for the designated hitter, Steve Mowry. Mowry hit a high pop fly to the first baseman in foul territory that didn't allow any runners to advance. Senior shortstop Austin Walts then grounded out to his counterpart to end the inning.
The game was scoreless through six innings, then the top of the seventh began with a Brendan Trimble liner to left-center that produced a two-base hit. The next batter, Michael Venturella, bunted Trimble over to third with one out. With the infield drawn in, the right fielder Jarod Hahn blooped a hit over the Walts' head. The Bulldogs led 1-0 through 6 1/2 innings.
AU junior center fielder Nick Edwards led off the bottom of the seventh with a solidly-hit ball to center. Continuing the hit parade, James reached on a bunt single, and the Eagles had runners on first and second with no outs. Lewandowski attempted to move the runners over with a sacrifice bunt, but an aggressive play from the Bulldogs catcher cut down Edwards at third.
Hampshire took his turn at the plate and worked a walk to load the bases for the second time in the game. Bellman grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice that retired Hampshire, but allowed James to score on the play. Mowry was the next man up and connected on a fastball, depositing it in right field to score Lewandowski, giving the Eagles a 2-1 lead.
Truman State grabbed the lead back in the top of the eighth after the third baseman Zak Larkin and left fielder Paul Trenhaile came around to score on a single and a sacrifice fly, respectively, in the inning. The Bulldogs had a 3-2 lead at that point.
The Eagles were determined to comeback, though. Brooks started off the bottom of the eighth lacing a 2-1 offering up the middle for a base hit. Sophomore catcher Adam Vasil bunted Brooks into scoring position. That brought the hot-hitting Edwards up, and he promptly ripped a ball to right-center to score Brooks.
James kept the line moving with another Eagle base knock to right field. Lewandowski loaded the bases after he also struck a ball through the right side of the infield. However, the Bulldogs turned a double play off the bat of Hampshire to end the Eagles' rally.
The Bulldog ninth started with Hahn base hit, and he was quickly bunted over to second base. However, a throwing error by Eagle pitcher Brandyn Sittinger left all hands safe. The Bulldogs tried again to bunt the runners over, and Sittinger attempted to cut the lead runner down at third, but the umpire ruled Hahn safe.
AU head coach John Schaly proceeded to go to his bullpen to bring on right-hand pitcher Alex Smith. Larkin greeted him with a bases-clearing double to giving the Bulldogs a 6-3 lead which they would hold onto for the victory.
Eagle catcher Vasil had a terrific day behind the plate. He effectively shut down the Truman State running game, throwing out 3-of-4 would be base-stealers. Vasil's battery-mate, Sittinger, had a much better day than his line indicated. He pitched eight innings, allowing six runs (five earned) on 10 hits. He also had eight strikeouts and three walks.