’Berg’s Series run ends abruptly

D-III World Series Roundup

PHOTO COURTESY OF MASON HAINEY Heidelberg centerfielder Robert Hunt runs the bases during the Division III World Series game against Babson Saturday in Cedar Rapids Iowa.

Heidelberg’s season ended quicker than the Student Princes wanted, or probably expected.

Two games, two losses — the second after a stunning ninth-inning rally against HU’s stalwart bullpen — eliminated them from the eight-team tournament.

The Princes lost late Friday night to Birmingham Southern, 6-1. On Saturday against Babson, a 5-1 lead in the final inning disappeared, and HU lost, 6-5.

“I just don’t think we played our best baseball.” said Heidelberg coach Chad Fitzgerald while he and his team were on their way home Sunday. “I thought we played really, really well (Saturday). We came out a little slow on Friday. It was a tough way to go out.”

The Princes ended the season at 35-15.

In the first game, the Panthers got to Heidelberg starting pitcher Alex Sir Louis early. They scored two runs in the first and another in the second. Another three runs in the fifth knocked the ‘Berg ace from the game.

Cole Steadman did the most damage — at least offensively — for Birmingham Southern. He had three hits — including a double — and drove in three runs.

The Panthers’ offensive output was more than enough for their pitchers, as John Michael Stanley and Andy Hammond combined to limit Heidelberg to four singles.

Stanley went six scoreless innings and allowed two hits, picking up the win. Kyle Jenkins drove in Zach Doran with Heidelberg’s only run, which came in the seventh.

Clyde graduate Cayden Rollins made a relief appearance for Heidelberg, throwing 2/3 scoreless innings.

The loss set up a must-win game against the Beavers Saturday.

The highlight of the game for the Princes — literally and figuratively — came in the bottom of the fourth.

With the game scoreless and Babson with two runners on and one out, Eric Jaun lined a Trevor Adkins pitch to left center. HU centerfielder Robert Hunt raced back to his right, left his feet, and made a full-extension catch to rob Jaun of extra bases and at probably two RBIs.

And almost as impressively, Hunt immediately got up and made a strong throw to the infield, preventing the runners from tagging.

“He’s just a really, really good defender. That’s why he’s in the lineup,” Fitzgerald said. “He made a big play in a big situation, and fired us up.”

The play went viral, and was ranked No. 1 on Saturday night’s “Top 10 Plays” on ESPN’s SportsCenter.

“It was a great read,” Fitzgerald said. “He ran a long way to get it, and really gave an outstanding effort to get the ball, but to get the ball in as well. He’s just a really headsy player. That’s what he does. He throws behind guys, he’s very smart about how he plays the game. I’m sure he was thinking what to do with it before he even left the ground. It was a great play.”

Heidelberg got some momentum from the play. After Adkins retired the next batter to end the fourth, HU broke through in the fifth with a Kane Bateman RBI single. In the sixth, Eric Devore added to the lead with a two-run double.

The Beavers got a run off Adkins in the sixth. But Adkins threw a scoreless seventh and setup man Brady Knizer retired Babson without incident in the eighth.

Then Heidelberg added to the cushion by getting an RBI double from catcher Marc Ochoa. The Princes added another run on a defensive miscue by the Beavers, and went to the bottom of the ninth with a four run lead.

Fitzgerald went to his closer, Joey Wenning. Wenning had been brilliant the entire postseason, but didn’t appear to have it Saturday. He allowed three hits and walked three, also throwing a wild pitch. When he walked Babson’s Sean Harrington with two out and the bases loaded to force in a run and make it 5-4, Fitzgerald brought in another reliever, Tristan Phillips.

Phillips allowed a two-run single to Jake Oliger to end the game, and HU’s season.

I don’t think the two games this weekend reflect how successful the season was,” Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t work out the way we were hoping for.”

Fitzgerald said the losses hurt, but that comes with getting as far as the team did.

“And that’s how it’s supposed to be,” he said. You get to the World Series — it’s not necessarily the eight best teams that are left in the country, but the eight teams that are playing the best at that time, because it’s so hard to get there — it’s one of those things that, you have to play well for a long period of time, and you know, unfortunately we kind of ran out of gas.”

Fitzgerald said he was proud of his team, a squad that had missed the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament for three consecutive years, and was only ranked briefly in the Division III polls this season.

“A lot of people — especially in D-III baseball — didn’t think we had a chance to be as good as we were this year,” he said. “I think we came out and we proved a lot of people wrong. Our ‘Why not?’ motto has really stood true. ‘Why not us?’ We went out and played as hard as we could for as long as we could. That took us all the way to Iowa.”

Now Heidelberg will look to the future, albeit without eight seniors. Senior players such as Bateman, Sir Louis, Wenning, first baseman Parker Fronk and left fielder Matt Psychas were all major parts of this run.

“They’ve set a great example for four years. They came into the program right after one of our last more successful seasons, and they saw what it was like to be 18-22, and they saw what it was like to play in a World Series,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re excited for the future. Obviously, we’re gonna take some time to enjoy what happened, but we’re excited to get back to work. We’ll miss those guys, but I think we’ve got a great group coming back and just excited to see what 2020 will bring.”

After 2019 brought so much.