Coming into this weekend, the Hopkins baseball team sat at the top of the Centennial Conference standings. They were up by two games over second-place Franklin and Marshall College (F&M) Diplomats with a doubleheader against the Diplomats Saturday after Friday’s game against Swarthmore College was postponed.
All the Blue Jays had to do was win one of the two games they had against F&M in order to secure the regular season Conference title and earn the rights to host the Conference Tournament.
The first game started out quietly, with neither team getting a hit in the first inning. That would turn out to be a rarity, as there would be runs scored in every inning thereafter until the eighth.
In the second and third innings the Diplomats took advantage of their leadoff hitters getting on via a hit-by-pitch and walk, respectively. Both were issued by the Blue Jays starting pitcher, freshman Matthew Dillard, and put F&M up 2-0 heading into the bottom of the third.
Hopkins opened up their scoring in typical fashion, with a home run from senior outfielder Tim Kutcher.
They continued the scoring in the inning by taking advantage of a two-out error by the Diplomats’ second baseman to add on two unearned runs and take the lead at 3-2.
The Blue Jays could not hold the lead for long, however, as the Diplomats tied the game up in the top of the fourth with a solo home run.
Hopkins was able to retake the lead in the bottom of the inning, however, as two walks and a wild pitch set up junior shortstop Mike Eberle to drive in sophomore second baseman Mark Lopez, the go-ahead run, with a ground ball.
The scoring onslaught would not stop there though, as the Diplomats retook the lead with a two-run home run in the top of the fifth.
F&M was able to stop the back-and-forth scoring in the bottom of the fifth, at which point they took control of the game.
They added three insurance runs in the top of the sixth to take an 8-4 lead.
The Blue Jays were able to scrape across one run in the seventh, but the Diplomats shut the door on any comeback hopes by scoring six runs in the top of the ninth.
The Diplomats won the game 14-7, but would have to win again if they wanted a chance to steal home field from the Jays in the Conference tournament.
Those hopes were dashed very quickly, as the Blue Jays put their foot down in the second game. Senior starting pitcher Sean McCracken set the tone early and often, as he surrendered only two hits over the course of his seven innings, and none after the third inning.
No Blue Jay pitcher faced more than four batters in an inning, and no Diplomat made it to third base in the game. McCracken explained how he was able to be so successful against the Diplomats.
“I really didn’t do anything different than my other starts, except a lot more of my pitches were right around the plate instead of over it, and it allowed me to get weak contact,” he said.
The Blue Jays offense also set the tone early, scoring twice in the bottom of the second on a bases-loaded single by Eberle. Their big inning, however, came in the bottom of the third, where they started the inning with four straight hits, including a two-run home run by graduate rightfielder Chris DeGiacomo. Those four hits chased the F&M starter, but the reliever was not able to get an out either.
Freshman catcher James Ingram was the first to face the reliever, and put a sacrifice bunt down that was mishandled by the pitcher, allowing everyone to reach base safely.
Back-to-back bases loaded hit by pitches and a single by junior centerfielder Chris Festa would push the score to 9-0 and meant a new relief pitcher for the Diplomats. Junior first baseman Nate Davis struck out, and DeGiacomo popped out, but then things fell apart once again for the Diplomats, who walked the next five Blue Jays as they added four more runs in the inning, which put the inning total to 11 runs.
When the inning finally ended the score was 13-0, and the Diplomats had lost nearly all hope.
The Blue Jays added two more runs in the fourth, and the game was closed out by senior pitcher David Glass, who faced the minimum over his two innings.
With the win, the Blue Jays were guaranteed to host the Conference Tournament. McCracken talked about how important it is to be the hosts of the Tournament.
“It’s absolutely enormous. We are definitely a better team at home,” he said.
Even though their fate was sealed, Hopkins had one more game on Monday against the Swarthmore College Garnet.
The Blue Jays went with pitcher by committee, trying to keep all their pitchers fresh heading into the Conference Tournament.
They used eight different pitchers, and no pitcher threw more than 36 pitches or 2.1 innings. A four-run fourth inning for the Garnet would end up being the difference in the contest, as they went on to pull out the victory 7-3.
The joy of the win for the Garnet was not long-lived, however, as the Muhlenberg College Mules beat the Dickinson College Red Devils on the same day to clinch the fourth seed in the Conference Tournament, eliminating Swarthmore from a chance to defend their Conference Championship from last season. The Blue Jays head into the Conference tournament leading the nation in home runs and home runs per game, at 64 and 1.68, respectively. They also have Jack Bunting, who is tied for the most wins in the country with 10.
The Blue Jays offense has been nearly unstoppable in Conference play, as they are averaging 10.5 runs per game in those 18 games, by far top in the Conference. McCracken elaborated on what the biggest keys will be for the Blue Jays to be successful in the tournament.
“Our biggest key will be how we play under pressure and how clutch we are. If we get some clutch plays we can go all the way,” he added.
The Conference Tournament will start for the Jays with a game Thursday at 3 p.m. against Muhlenberg on Babb Field.