Dragons on the doorstep of program history

PHOTO BY JOSH BURKHOLDER/TIFFIN UNIVERSITY Tiffin’s Zach Campbell (right) celebrates with teammate John Heckman after hitting a solo homer in a G-MAC Tournament game with Kentucky Wesleyan in Mason.

MASON — Late in Friday’s Great-Midwest Athletic Conference Tournament game with Kentucky Wesleyan, Tiffin University coach Joe Wilkins had a conversation with his starting pitcher, Cody Orr.

Orr had been brilliant against the Panthers, but Wilkins wanted to know what his player thought.

Should he stick with the starter, or go to the bullpen?

He essentially was leaving the decision in the hands of Orr.

“You don’t want to do that all the time,” Wilkins said. “But sometimes … I felt that was the time to do it. Have him look me in the eye and tell me he still had it when he was approaching 100 pitches.

And what did Orr say?

“He said, ‘I want the ball,'” Wilkins said.

Orr ended up throwing a complete game, and Tiffin defeated Kentucky Wesleyan, 5-3, to reach the tournament finals.

Tiffin came into the tournament as the No. 7 seed, but after wins over Ohio Dominican and Trevecca Nazarene Wednesday, and then the victory over the Panthers Friday, the team is on the doorstep of program history.

And in a good position to make it.

By winning those three games, the Dragons enter today’s finals in the winner’s bracket, meaning Wesleyan, has to beat them twice.

If Tiffin wins Saturday, it will make its first regional appearance in its history.

This from a team that sports a 23-29 overall record.

Wilkins said the Dragons’ performance in the last week hasn’t surprised him.

“If you’d have asked me a month ago, then the answer might be different,” he said. “Right now, I don’t think ‘surprise’ is the word. More proud of the guys, how they’ve kind of built this momentum for themselves, to where the word ‘surprise’ isn’t appropriate.”

In Friday’s game, Tiffin grabbed the lead in the second when Jack Dennis singled in John Heckman.

Zach Campbell made it 2-0 in the fourth when he launched a homer to right center, then Orr — who led off and had a pair of hits — collected an infield single, which scored Kyle Vance, making it 3-0 in the fifth.

Tiffin added single runs in the sixth and seventh. In the sixth, Brayden Callihan singled in Nick Whetnall, and in the eighth, an infield single from Vance scored Dennis to make it 5-0.

Meanwhile, Orr was cruising, keeping the Panthers off the board for the first seven innings.

But he ran into trouble in the eighth.

Ohio Dominican’s Ethan Maxey hit an RBI double, and Reece Puckett followed with a triple to make it 5-2. Lane Kennomore then hit a sac fly, and the Dragons’ lead was down to two runs.

But Orr recovered to retire the next two batters, and then in the ninth, he pitched around a leadoff single, striking out the last two hitters he faced to end the game.

Orr finished with 10 strikeouts, scattering seven hits and walking one. He improved to 5-1 with the victory.

“He has good stuff and everything, downhill on the fastball, is able to mix, drop down here and there, as far as arm angle,” Wilkins said. “But the underlying quality that he possesses is what kind of a competitor he is, and what he’s made of.”

It’s a quality Wilkins said is also present in the rest of the team. The team swept a regular season doubleheader with Walsh last Saturday to secure a spot in the conference tournament, and has won five straight games overall, and seven of eight.

Because of that, the coach said he’s expecting TU to come in confident for today’s final.

“You’ve got to prove it over and over and over again, how bad you want it,” he said. “Sometimes it isn’t enough. But so far, in this tournament, it has been.”