Baseball players are sometimes kidded about their conditioning. Rarely is baseball considered an endurance sport.
However, at closer inspection, all those chuckles are misdirected. At the Major League level, it takes stamina to play 162 games. In college baseball, and in the GLIAC, it takes mental and physical strength to be successful, particularly in the conference tournament.
Saturday (May 11) in Ypsilanti, Mich., the Ashland University baseball team won its first-ever GLIAC Tournament title. The Eagles, now 36-17, had to win two games on Saturday to bring home the crown. They started the day with a 7-5 victory over Ohio Dominican and capped off the afternoon with a 6-4 triumph over Grand Valley State.
Ashland is ranked first in the region and was third in the GLIAC during the regular season. ODU was the fourth seed in this tournament. GVSU was the regular season champ. The Eagles have won eight of their last 10 games.
In both of Saturday's games, the Eagles got an early lead and never relinquished it. Against Ohio Dominican (25-28), AU led 4-0 after two innings and 7-0 after four. The top three hitters in the AU lineup – third baseman Wade Kaido (Zanesville, Ohio), outfielder Austin Erb (Mechanicsville, Va./Hanover) and designated hitter Mackenzie Hampshire (Delphos, Ohio/Elida) - combined to go 7-for-12. They scored four times and drove in four runs. Hampshire was 3-for-4 and drove in a pair of runs.
Freshman righty Ricky Krieger (New Philadelphia, Ohio) gave the Eagles a quality start by going six strong innings. Krieger allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits. He walked two and whiffed six. Krieger is 4-1. When he tired, the Eagles turned to Zach Botjer (Deshler, Ohio/Sinclair C.C.). He pitched three innings to earn his conference-leading seventh save of the season. ODU got to Botjer for two runs, but the senior shut the door when he had to and preserved the win.
In the second game, AU trailed, 3-2 after two innings, but rebounded to grab a 5-3 advantage after three frames. Kaido, who was named the tournament's most valuable player, was 2-for-5. Shortstop Austin Walts (Amherst, Ohio/Amherst Steele) was 2-for-5 and catcher Adam Murphy (West Carrollton, Ohio) was 2-for-4. Outfielder Alex Sortwell (San Mateo, Calif./Canada College) rapped a homer. Hampshire, first baseman Tyler Gray (Plain City, Ohio/Jonathan Alder) and second baseman Matt Gundlach (Monroeville, Ohio/Sandusky Perkins) all doubled.
Third baseman Stephen Claypool went 3-for-5 for GVSU and second baseman Kevin Zak was 2-for-5. Both players had a double.
One of the heroes of this game was sophomore pitcher Vince Frate (North Royalton, Ohio). Frate, now 3-4, was tagged for three runs and seven hits over the first two innings. In the last seven innings, he permitted a run on four hits. Frate walked two and struck out two. This was his second complete game of the year. Frate, Kaido, Hampshire and outfielder Shane Wagner (Volant, Pa./Mercyhurst Northeast C.C.) earned spots on the all-tournament team.
Dan Saier, the second of four Grand Valley State pitchers, was tagged with the loss. Saier (3-1) was touched up for three runs on four hits in a third of an inning. Chris Ward started and went 1.2 innings.
The loss puts the Lakers at 31-16.
Both Ashland and GVSU should be included in the Midwest Regional Tournament which begins next week. The NCAA playoff field will be announced Sunday evening.