BEREA, OHIO -- It's a Cinderella story for sure. The Baldwin Wallace University baseball team will play this week in its first-ever NCAA Division III World Series at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wisconsin when it faces Emory (Ga.) University on Friday, May 23 at 2:15 p.m. (EST). For more information on the 2014 NCAA Division III World Series, please visit the championship web site at http://www.ncaa.com/sports/baseball/d3.
The Yellow Jacket baseball squad owns a school-record 29 victories, a 29-18 record, tied for fourth during the OAC regular season, finished second at the OAC Tournament and won last weekend's NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional.
BW's Cinderella season nearly ended more than three weeks ago, but the Yellow Jackets received help from their cross-town rival, John Carroll University, to qualify for the four-team OAC Tournament.
Following its doubleheader sweep of Ohio Athletic Conference rival Capital University on May 2, BW hoped the secure its first OAC Tournament berth since 2003 and its first under the direction of fourth-year Head Coach Brian Harrison. All BW needed was for OAC-rival Heidelberg University, then ranked sixth nationally, to beat Ohio Northern University once the next day or for JCU to beat Muskingum University once.
On May 3, ONU pulled off the upset sweep of Heidelberg and remained tied with BW for the fourth and final spot in the OAC tourney. The JCU and Muskingum twinbill that day was postponed until May 4. Due to the tie-breaker, if Muskingum would beat JCU once, ONU would earn the fourth spot and BW would be eliminated. The Blue Streaks earned the sweep and BW earned its OAC tourney berth.
At the OAC Tournament, BW lost its first game to nationally-ranked and OAC regular season champ Marietta College. Undaunted, the Yellow Jackets fought back and won three straight games, including eliminating Heidelberg and Marietta as well as beating JCU, before losing to the Blue Streaks in the championship game.
Some of the players didn't know what to think. Junior two-time All-OAC first baseman Kyle Chontos (Pickerington/ North) shaved his head and "chops"/ beard because he thought his season was over and wanted to discard his "Boston Strong" appearance. Freshman left-handed pitcher Logan Heffernan (Lebanon), who earned Mid-Atlantic Region all-tournament team honors, drove home to the Greater Cincinnati area. One player, sophomore two-time All-OAC second baseman Mark Zimmerman (Akron/ Green), the Mid-Atlantioc Region Tournament Most Valuable Player, was supposed to go to Florida with his family on vacation but decided to stay home with hopes that the Yellow Jackets would earn at at-large berth in the tourney.
On Sunday night, May 4, Harrison, his staff, the student-athletes and their parents and many other Yellow Jacket supporters waited to hear the results. Some were positive in their thoughts while others had little or no hope. Late in the evening the BW faithful received word that Cinderella had been invited to the dance. BW was in the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1991, and so was Marietta, Heidelberg and JCU. It marked the first time in tourney history that four schools from the same conference received berths in the Div. III baseball tourney.
For Chontos, it provided a new look. For Heffernan, it meant another three-plus hour drive back to Berea the day after he had arrived home. And, for Zimmerman, it meant he made a good decision and didn't have to catch a plane from Florida to Moosic, Pennsylvania.
But why Moosic, Pa. and the NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Region when Marietta was already set to host the Mideast Regional tourney and BW was a Mideast Region team? The NCAA Selection Committee picks the best 56 teams for the tourney first, then it aligns teams to have eight equal regions (six with eight teams and two with six teams). So, the committee decided to keep Marietta at home and make it the top seed. It added JCU to the Mideast and made it a six seed. It sent Heidelberg to the Midwest Region and made it a No.2 seed, and it sent BW to the Mid-Atlantic as a fourth seed after originally making it the third seed.
But why did the NCAA committee change BW's seeding? According to officials from host Misericordia (Pa.) University, if BW was seeded third and potential third seed Susquehanna (Pa.) was fourth, Susquehanna would be forced to play conference rival Moravian (Pa.), the number one seed, in its second game if each won their first contest. Moving BW to the fourth seeded eliminated that possibility, and the Jackets got an added bonus when eighth seed Haverford (Pa.) beat Moravian in its first game.
In Moosic, BW beat host Misericordia, 8-4, in its first game and followed with a 10-2 victory against Haverford and a 4-1 win versus Susquehanna to set up the regional final versus Wesleyan (Conn.) University. Wesleyan won the loser's bracket and had to beat BW, the winner's bracket champ, twice. Down 6-1 in the second inning, the Yellow Jackets rallied with four runs in the sixth and three more in the seventh to beat Wesleyan, 9-7, to earn their first-ever trip to the World Series.
The highlights of the season are many, including its current 15-9 record against the 10 teams it played this season and were selected t the NCAA tourney. BW had the 13th toughest schedule in Div. III this year. As a team, BW hits a robust .327 with 107 doubles and 84 stolen bases. The pitching staff has a 4.36 earned run average and 260 strikeouts in 396 innings pitched.
Individually, BW jas been led by the first four hitters in its lineup, all of whom were named first-team All-OAC. The quartet is senior All-OAC and Academic All-OAC third baseman Brad Gugliotta (Twinsburg), Zimmerman, Chontos and sophomore designated hitter Hunter Handel (Akron). The quartet have a combined .379 (282-for-744) batting average with 55 doubles, nine triples, 169 runs batted-in (RBI) and 27 stolen bases. In addition, Zimmerman was the Mid-Atlantic Region Tournament Most Valuable Player and was joined by Gugliotta and Chontos on the all-tournament team.
On the mound, junior Cory Waite (Willoughby) is the ace of the staff and is joined in the rotation by sophomore Alex Albright (North Royalton), Heffernan and senior Cory Durbin (Canton/ GlenOak). Waite is 7-2 with a 3.09 earned run average. Albright is 5-2 with a 4.12 ERA and a team-leading 41 strikeouts. Heffernan is 4-3 with a 3.20 ERA. Durbin is 1-1 with a 4.17 ERA, including an important stint of five and one-third innings in the regional championship win versus Wesleyan. Harrison also has senior Jon Capadona (North Royalton) and Anthony Alioto Jr. (Mayfield) at his disposal to start, pitch long relief or get an out when necessary.
In the bullpen, sophomore Brandon Cichocki (Walled Lake, Mich.) is the "stopper" and is joined by Zimmerman, sophomore Matt Wittels (Lyndhurst/ Brush) and senior Dylan Fodor (Twinsburg) as his main relievers. Cichocki is 2-2 with a team-leading 2.45 ERA and a single-season school-record eight saves. Zimmerman is 1-0 with a 3.52 ERA and 17 whiffs in 15 innings of work.
The Yellow Jackets will depart for Appleton on Wednesday morning from The Lou Higgins Center in Berea. And the Cinderella story will continue in Wisconsin.
FOR MORE BW SPORTS INFORMATION, please contact Sports Information Director Kevin Ruple by telephone at 440-826-2327 and e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or Assistant SID Jeff Miller by phone at 440-826-2780 and email at email@example.com. Fans can access the latest BW athletics information at www.BWyellowjackets.com and we invite you to join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bwyellowjackets and Twitter at http://twitter.com/bwathletics.