DII baseball championship journal: Looking back at Day 3 from Grand Prairie
GRAND PRAIRIE, TX. — Memorial Day from The Ballpark in Grand Prairie was just that.
A day to remember.
North Georgia and Delta State matched up in game one. It was the first elimination game of the tournament. When it was all said and done, someone was going home.
Delta State’s senior lefty Tre Hobbs made sure that wasn’t the Statesmen.
Hobbs came out perfect. He faced the minimum through three innings.
Despite being perfect through three frames, the fourth may have been Hobbs most impressive. He walked the first two batters on ten pitches. Instead of losing himself, Hobbs did what any senior would do.
Struck out the next three batters on nasty breaking balls.
“Once I walked those two batters I knew I had to bear down and keep them from scoring,” Hobbs said. “Once that team starts scoring, they just keep scoring, and keep scoring and keep scoring. So I knew I had to bear down and get some outs.”
The Delta State offense had the big inning they desperately needed. The Statesmen went scoreless for the first three innings on Monday. Combined with the shutout against Lindenwood on Saturday, Delta State hadn’t scored in 12 Championship innings.
That is, until junior right fielder Clay Casey came to the plate with bases loaded.
Hobbs was simply masterful. A complete game shutout. His breaking ball kept North Georgia off balance all day. He struck out nine, but, aside from one hard-hit ball to right, was relatively unscathed.
“I thought Tre did a great job against a good hitting lineup,” Delta State skipper Mike Kinnison said. "I have great respect for [North Georgia], look at what they accomplished this year. That just magnifies the job that Tre did.”
North Georgia’s starter Dylan Peppers pitched a heck of a game himself. He simply ran into the heart of one of Division II’s most potent lineups in the fourth inning. The senior’s final performance was a strong one, going seven innings with five strikeouts and two walks.
Although he didn’t get the win, he was part of a senior class who rewrote history at North Georgia. Peppers was part of a group that earned the Nighthawks their first No. 1 ranking and first-ever regional championship.
“You know there are a lot of guys who aren’t seniors that had a lot to do with this, obviously,” Pepper said. “But our 10 or 11 seniors, we had a big impact. I think our legacy is going to be pretty good. I think a lot of guys who played, or maybe not have played, we maybe gave them a little idea on how to conduct themselves. All year, we played to our full ability.”
The nightcap was even more memorable.
MORE: Day 3 recap
Both teams entered without a loss. Neither team wanted to leave with one.
West Chester’s Mike Cipolla and Lindenwood’s Andrew Eilers had a pitching duel for the ages. Both came out a little shaky, each allowing a run in the first inning.
Both then tossed goose eggs into the seventh.
That has been one of the impressive storylines here in Grand Prairie. Lindenwood’s starting pitching has surprised a lot of people. First it shut out Delta State’s high-octane offense, and then held a West Chester team that scored nine runs just two days ago to one run.
“This has been an amazing run in regards to our starters, there’s no question about it,” Lindenwood head coach Doug Beltcher said. “We’re getting quality start after quality start after quality start. I expect no different on Wednesday. We’re going to get out of this. I think we can get out of this, I think our guys believe we can get out of this. You’re going to see another quality start.”
While the pitching was stealing the show, Nick Ward was in the field making solid play after solid play. Whether he was diving up the middle saving runs, turning two, or leaping in the air, Ward produced his fair share of top plays Monday night.
The leaping catch that ended the second inning — with a runner on third mind you — was one for the ages.
BB: Nick Ward web gem ends Lindenwood's second. Sheeran, Jarmuz, Salomone due up for the .— WCU Athletics (@WCUAthletics) May 30, 2017
“It kind of came at me in slow motion,” Ward said. “I saw it come off the bat, I thought it was way over my head and thought give it a shot. And it hit my glove.”
When asked if he was surprised, Ward humbly responded, “Kind of, yea. I kind of closed my eyes and reached my glove in the air and came down with it.”
“I got a mid-game text from our strength coach that said, ‘that’s why we box jump,’” West Chester head coach Jad Prachniak added.
Connor Law was able to shut down Delta State for two shutout innings on Saturday, earning Lindenwood its first-ever DII Baseball Championship win. Monday, he came out firing, striking out the side in the seventh.
The eighth inning wasn’t so kind.
West Chester patiently bided its time, looking for an opportunity to pounce. The Golden Rams didn’t use home runs or extra base hits to score, but made the most of the opportunities they were given. They drew walks, forced bad throws, and hit timely singles.
When it was all over, West Chester was ahead by four runs. It would be all the Golden Rams needed as Josh McClain came in to shut the door.
It was a much different day than Sunday at Grand Prairie. Sunday saw two teams win, putting up multiple-run innings without any hits. Monday saw multiple runs hard to come by, and two scoreboards filled with goose eggs behind dominant starting pitching performances.
Oh day four, what do you have in store?