’Berg’s tournament run to continue at Cedar Rapids
Before the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament even began, Heidelberg’s baseball team was oozing confidence.
No one embodied that more than senior first baseman Parker Fronk, who said the Student Princes had what it took to go all the way.
Three weeks later, Heidelberg has a chance to turn its first baseman into a prophet.
After winning the Division III regional title in Adrian, then taking two straight games from Wooster at a home super regional, the Student Princes are in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, one of eight teams remaining in the Division III postseason.
It’s World Series time.
And what does Fronk think now?
“It’s been surreal,” he said. “It’s been a great last couple of weeks.”
Now Heidelberg is hoping for one more great chapter.
This one begins tonight, when the Student Princes begin their second World Series run in program history by facing Birmingham Southern.
First pitch is scheduled for 8:45 p.m.
The Panthers, champions of the Southern Athletic Association, enter with a 39-13 record. They won consecutive games over No. 17 Coe to clinch their super regional last week and their first World Series appearance.
Birmingham Southern comes into the Series after gaining a series of regional accolades. Designated hitter Tyler Hamel was named first-team All-South Region after hitting nine homers and driving in 42 runs. Catcher Tyler Wise was a second-team selection after hitting .354 with six homers.
The Panthers also have standouts on the pitching staff. Richie Misichia, a lefty, is 9-1 with six saves and a 2.13 earned run average. John Michael Shirley enters Iowa with a 6-2 mark and a 3.02 ERA.
The Panthers are formidable. But so is every team still alive at this point.
The format for the Series is different than it was in 2010, when HU last played for a D-III title. Instead of a single eight-team double-elimination tournament, it’s two separate four-team brackets. Heidelberg is in “Pool B” with the Panthers, Babson and Johns Hopkins.
Heidelberg coach Chad Fitzgerald said he and his staff have done some work on the opponents, but it still comes down to what the Student Princes can control — their play.
“We’ve started, we’ve got a few phone calls out, but for us, we have to do what we do well in order to be successful,” he said. “So we’ll have a gameplan, on how we want to go after guys, and I’m sure they will as well, but we’re 50 games in. Everybody knows everybody whether you’ve played them or you haven’t.”
A player likely highly-involved with those plans is senior starter Alex Sir Louis. Sir Louis has been Heidelberg’s Game 1 starter in each postseason round. Sir Louis is 9-2 with a 3.67 earned run average.
“We know our opponents pretty well,” Sir Louis said. “Our coaches do a great job of scouting and getting the information we need from our opponents. But, yeah, going in, you can’t really treat any team like they’re any (more) superior or inferior than you are. You’ve just got to go out and play your game, and hopefully the result will be in our favor.”
And even though it’s double elimination, Sir Louis said there still is a premium on winning Game 1.
“You have to play the first game as if it’s a must-win, or you’re going home,” he said. “Obviously, it’s been done, but the chances are not in your favor. If you lose the first game, you’re gonna have to dig even deeper into your bullpen, and even deeper into your pitching, put more wear and tear on your guys, playing an extra game.”
Still, Heidelberg’s players and coaches have repeated a phrase over and over during the last few weeks:
Don’t let the moment get too big.
“Honestly we’re gonna approach it the same way we’ve approached every game this season,” Matt Psychas said. “It’s just another game to us. If we do what we know how to do, if we play our style, we give ourself the best chance to win no matter what game it is.”
Heidelberg will have plenty of momentum coming in. Fronk had clutch hit after clutch hit during the regional. The team’s bullpen — which includes closer Joey Wenning, setup man Brady Knitzer and lefty Clyde graduate Cayden Rollins — has been superb.
And the defense — given boosts by the dazzling efforts of shortstop Zach Doran and Psychas — has shined.
Things also are looking up on the injury front. Fitzgerald said leadoff hitter Kane Bateman — the team leader in hits and on base percentage — is expected to play after getting hurt in the super regional final against Wooster.
“From what we hear, he’s fine,” Fitzgerald said. “He was able to hit on the field (Monday), try to get (him) some live at-bats now. I don’t think there’s a chance in hell he’s not gonna be in the lineup on Friday.”
Fitzgerald said everything is in place for a successful week.
But nothing is guaranteed.
“I think we’re built to make a run,” Fitzgerald said. “Now, obviously you have to go and play well, but we’re built to go and try and make some noise.”
Just as Fronk said.