WASHINGTON, Pennsylvania - The Earlham College baseball team accomplished something no team in athletics department history had on Thursday as the Quakers opened the NCAA Division III Mideast Region with a 6-2 win over the College of Wooster.
No Earlham team had ever won an NCAA Division III Tournament contest in the 27 years the College has been a member of NCAA Division III until the No. 8 Quakers upset the No. 1 Scots on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College (W&J). The Quakers will take on the host Presidents at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow (Friday).
"It feels great to be the first program to win an NCAA Division III Tournament game," head coach Steve Sakosits said. "Our expectation is to win, and everyone buys into that."
The Earlham offense remained patient in the early going as the Quakers drew five walks off of Wooster starter Michael Houdek in his 2.2 innings pitched. Three of those walks came in the second inning including a bases-loaded walk to junior Kendal Baker plated Earlham's first run. Houdek limited the damage, however, as a fielder's choice and a groundout ended the Quakers' threat.
Wooster, which entered the game as the top scoring offense in the country, quickly took the lead to open the bottom of the second as Garrett Crum crushed a two-run shot to center field. Trailing 2-1, senior Brennan Laird opened the top of the third by drawing a walk, and after he advanced to second on a wild pitch, senior Eric Elkus singled to center field to tie the game 2-2.
Another wild pitch advanced Elkus 90 feet, and fellow senior Cody Krumlauf gave Earlham a 3-2 lead with a single to left center.
Senior Howie Smith sat down the Scots in order in the bottom of the third, and seniors Nate Lynch and Laird set the table for Elkus in the top of the fourth. The Edgewood, Kentucky, native then belted his ninth home run of the season over the center field wall of Ross Memorial Park to give Earlham a 6-2 advantage. The blast was Elkus' 25th career home run, tying Ryan Hayes' (2011-14) career record.
"It means a lot to me to be able to help out the team," Elkus said. "It's cool to achieve the record, but we were just trying to put up some runs for Howie [Smith]. He never needs a lot."
Wooster threatened to score in the sixth as two runner reached base in the sixth, but a lineout to center field kept the Scots off the scoreboard.
Smith was relieved by sophomore Walter Talcott, who got out of bases loaded jam in the eighth inning by inducing a groundout. Earlham nearly stretched its lead in in the ninth after a briefly lightning delay, but freshman Isaiah Shake was thrown out at home plate.
There would be no comeback for No. 1 Wooster as Talcott gave No. 8 Earlham the victory by retiring the Scots in order in the ninth. The win was Earlham's second over Wooster (the other came in 1996) in 29 games.
Smith won its 23rd career contest and ninth of the season, allowing seven hits and striking out three in seven innings.
"I felt good in my bullpen session and I have confidence against anyone," Smith said. "I was able to locate three pitches in the zone all game and adjust to them [Wooster] hunting fastballs."
Elkus finished 2-4 with four RBIs while Laird also had two hits with seven other Quakers tallying one hit. Earlham also drew eight walks compared to just one for the Scots.
Garrett Crum, Jacob Stuursma, and Jake Fling all had two hits for Wooster.
"I thought our team played very loose today," Sakosits said. "We were obviously excited about the opportunity to play in our first NCAA Division III Regional, but we weren't overwhelmed by the opportunity."
The Quakers (30-12) hit the 30-win plateau for the first time in program history. Earlham, which held the top offense in the country to two runs, will need to hold the second-best offense in the nation (W&J) to improve to 2-0 tomorrow. First pitch is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.