GRAND PRAIRIE, TX — Day 1 of the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship was what Texas baseball should be.
They say everything is bigger in Texas. That includes the heat and championship action.
The day was hot for sure, hitting the 90s well into the evening, but a strong blowing wind to left at least made it a bit more tolerable.
“We were able to get down here on Wednesday, so we were able to get acclimated to the heat,” West Chester head coach Jad Prachniak said. “I know it’s going to be different playing a nine-inning game and being out here four hours.
“Balls are pushing out to the left. That’s the way it was on our practice day. So I’m assuming that’s going to be the standard wind here.”
Both coaches in Game 1 had big decisions to make. Prachniak had to decide between junior righty Mike Cippola (8-2, 1.76 ERA) or DI transfer sophomore right-hander Jon Fisher to take the hill.
“It’s kind of unique that we have had three different guys that have had ace-caliber seasons,” Prachniak said. “On any given day they can give us a quality start. We kept it simple. Who started Game 1 of the regionals. Jon’s arm bounces back pretty quick. He does a good job today, he’ll be available later in the week.”
North Georgia head coach Tom Cantrell had a similar choice. Junior lefty Daniel McCrary led the Nighthawks' three starters with a 2.13 ERA, but senior right-hander Dylan Peppers posted a 2.84 ERA and was coming off a Southeast Regional Most Outstanding Player performance. Sophomore lefty Steven Bower also made 11 starts, going 7-3 with a 2.14 ERA of his own.
Not according to Cantrell.
“I’ll be honest, it really wasn’t a hard choice,” Cantrell said. “[Daniel] McCrary is on his normal rest. He’s 10-1, we didn’t get here without him. All these guys are going to need a pitch for what we want to do here. It really wasn’t a tough choice at all once we secured the Southeast Regional.”
West Chester’s Jared Melone had the biggest hit of game one. Trailing 3-0 to UNG, Melone — the DII leader in runs scored — ripped an up-and-in fastball for the go-ahead grand slam.
"It's not possible unless the guys in front of me get on," Melone said of his game-changing grand slam. “We knew they could score runs. We knew we had to put the ball in play, because our lineup is good enough to score runs.
"I had a pretty good idea," Melone said of his contact. "I don't like to [boast about] anything, but it was a pretty good pitch for me to hit. I was seeing the ball pretty well today.”
Big was also the pitching matchup in the second game of the evening.
Junior righty Seth Birdsong — who stands at 6-foot-5 and 255 — took the hill for Delta State. Senior right-hander Brendan Feldmann — who stands 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds — toed the rubber for Lindenwood.
Feldmann delivered, hurling the biggest performance of the day. The righty went seven dominant innings, striking out four and walking two.
He allowed no runs to a Delta State team that scored 442 runs this season while being fueled by the DII Player of the Year. Zach Shannon, winner of the NCBWA award, did rip a big opposite field double to break up Feldmann’s no-hitter in the fourth. That’s the 20th straight game he’s recorded a hit and the 50th in a row that he reached base.
You see the trend? Those are pretty big streaks.
On top of it all, Feldmann was the winning pitcher in Lindenwood’s first-ever championship win.
“Obviously we were thrilled to get our first [DII Baseball Championship] win in our school’s history,” Lindenwood head coach Doug Bletcher said. “Outstanding effort by Feldman. Two hitter, and two walks against one of the superior in the tournament.”
“Everything [was working],” Feldmann added. “I hit spots, but the heat got to me and I got a little wild. The defensive played great.
“I haven’t played in the [DII Baseball Championship]. I’ve played in state tournaments, so this is up there. I wish I would have played a little bit better, but it looks good and we won. It was great.”
Feldmann shut down one of the best offenses in the championship... and he wished he could have played a little bit better.
That’s big time right there.