RICHMOND, Indiana - The Earlham College baseball team won the program's first ever Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Tournament championship with a 5-2 victory over Mount St. Joseph University (MSJ) at Randal R. Sadler Stadium on May 13.
"I couldn't be prouder of a group of young men," head coach Steve Sakosits said. "They believed and bought into our process from the very first day. We've got very talented guys, but it takes hard work to get you where you want to go."
Where exactly did Earlham want to go? To places it has never been before as a program. The Quakers' hopes of hosting the HCAC Tournament dwindled after starting the conference season 5-5, but Earlham won 16 of its final 17 conference games to claim the program's first HCAC regular season title and the rights to host the HCAC Tournament. And after victories over Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Manchester University, the Quakers were a win against MSJ away from the opportunity to go another place the baseball program has never been – the NCAA Division III Tournament.
For the second consecutive game, Earlham did not allow a runner to reach base in the first three innings as freshman starter Colin Greve held the Lions' offense in check. An RBI-single from junior Kendal Baker in the second and a sacrifice fly from sophomore Addison Robertson in the third game the Quakers a 2-0 lead after three innings.
MSJ, making its first appearance in the HCAC Tournament since winning back-to-back tournament titles in 2006 and 2007, got to Greve the second time through the order. After a strikeout, a walk and a double put Lions on second and third, and the double that followed tied the contest 2-2.
Greve got Simon Schaefer to flyout for the second out of the fourth inning, but a Garrett Hogan single appeared to give Mount St. Joseph a 3-2 lead. Baker, who was named the tournament's most outstanding player, took the single on a hop and gunned down Nathan Hunter at home plate to end the inning.
"Our team has the mentality of bending but not breaking," said Sakosits. "Kendal came up huge for us in right field. By leaving that half inning tied 2-2 instead of down 3-2 allowed us to keep momentum going."
The Quakers did indeed keep the momentum going as a senior Matt Barger gave Earlham a 3-2 advantage with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth. After a scoreless fifth from both sides, the Quakers manufactured a run in the sixth using a hit from Isaiah Shake, a sacrifice bunt, and an RBI-hit from Barger.
Leading 4-2 with sophomore Walter Talcott now on the mound, senior Nate Lynch added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the eighth. MSJ did get runners on the corners in the ninth, but a double play including a runner being thrown out at home plate got the Quakers within a single out of history.
And who else but Baker would end the game? A routine fly ball found its way to Baker's glove in right field and the dog pile commenced for the first time at Sadler Stadium.
"We finished 19-3 and were dominant at Sadler Stadium this season," Sakosits said. "It was great to have the HCAC Tournament at Earlham for the first time and see the College and the community getting behind us was awesome."
Greve earned his fourth win of the season pitching five innings and striking out four while surrendering two earned runs. Talcott earned the first save of his sophomore campaign allowing just two hits in three innings pitched.
Mike Hilliard took the loss for the Lions, walking five batters and giving up three earned runs in 3.1 innings pitched.
Freshman Danny Dopp, the hero in game one of the HCAC Tournament for Earlham, finished 2-4 with two runs scored while Shake also had two hits. Six other Quakers tallied singles.
Hunter, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, led MSJ in defeat going 2-4 with two RBIs.
The win, the Quakers' 29th of the season, ties the program record for total wins in a season set last year. The victory also marks the first time an Earlham team has earned a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament on campus.
"We are very pleased and excited with where we are at right now, but we are moving forward with the idea that we can win," said Sakosits. "I want teams to see what Earlham College baseball is all about."
Earlham finished its 2017 season with a program-best 30-14 record and a trio of program firsts - an HCAC regular season title, an HCAC Tournament title, and an NCAA Division III Tournament win.