RICHMOND, IND. – While a pair of defeats in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships at Earlham College's Sadler Field diminished weekend plans for Manchester University, it couldn't take away the memories of more Spartans' diamond success.
In the wake of an 8-2 loss to regular season and eventual tournament champion Earlham and a 4-2 defeat at the hands of third-seeded Mt. St. Joseph, Coach Rick Espeset's crew could still stand back at look at a season that featured the program's eighth straight finish of 20-or-more wins and a remarkable 19th appearance in the league's final four. The Black and Gold (22-21) narrowly missed advancing to the championship round, too.
The morning's loss to the Quakers was much closer than the six-run deficit suggested. Trailing 4-0 in the top of the fifth, the Spartans finally figured EC starter Kyle Gorman. After holding the visitors scoreless and hitless over the first four frames, Manchester University's offense arrived, reeling off three successive safeties, including a rousing triple from junior left fielder Eric Knepper (Bremen, Ind.), to close within 4-2. The Black and Gold were on the verge of making an even bigger move, loading the bases with only out but a strikeout and fly out ended the rally. Earlham managed to add insurance in the sixth behind four hits and three visiting errors.
Friday's final game was nip-and-tuck from the beginning, just as the tournament opener had been against MSJ. The Lions opened up a 2-0 lead riding three-hit shutout pitching from starter Zak Farmer. However, once again, the Spartans pieced together middle-inning rally, scoring twice in the sixth, as freshman designated hitter Joe Gallatin (Muncie, Ind.) clouted a run-scoring double and senior third baseman Kevin Clarke (Cincinnati, Ohio) plated another run on a sacrifice fly. As they did in the winner's bracket, Manchester University had a chance to add more, loading the bases in the bottom of the seventh, but couldn't convert. Mt. St. Joseph, after being held to just one earned run on four hits over the first seven innings due to an impressive pitching performance by junior Stephen Pinarski (Goshen, Ind.), managed to post the eventual winning tallies in the top of the ninth.
Senior outfielder Chad Schultz (Fair Oaks, Ind.) and sophomore shortstop Braxton Riley (Fort Wayne, Ind.) led the offense over the two games, finishing with three hits each. Gallatin (two RBI) and Knepper (one RBI) added highlights. Schultz' afternoon added to a resume that gained him all-tournament honors, as he turned in a sparkling .417 batting average in the span, and Riley joined him on the squad after hitting .385 with two doubles.