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Baseball Team Set to Start Postseason Tourney Play on Thursday

Baseball Team Set to Start Postseason Tourney Play on Thursday

BEREA, Ohio – The Baldwin Wallace University baseball team begins 2016 Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament play this Thursday, May 12 with hopes of winning the conference tourney title and returning to the NCAA Division III National Tournament for the third straight year. The OAC tourney will take place in Westerville, Ohio, the site of OAC regular season champ Otterbein University.

The Yellow Jackets, 21-18 overall, finished the OAC regular season with a 13-5 record and tied for second place with its Thursday opponent, Marietta College (25-15). Marietta is the number-two seed and BW is No.3. The game will take place at 3:00 p.m. at Fishbaugh Field. Top-seed Otterbein (31-9) will play No.4-seed John Carroll University (19-20) at 12 p.m. The winners on Thursday open play on Friday morning at 9:30 a.m., followed by the losers from Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in the first elimination game. The second elimination game is at 4 p.m. The championship game(s) are on Saturday at 12 noon and 3:00 p.m.

"We are excited to be in the prestigious OAC Tournament and playing Marietta in the first round," said sixth-year Head Coach Brian Harrison. "There are four quality baseball teams in this tournament and any one of the four have the talent and ability to win a championship and play in the NCAA Tournament.

"We need to have a great effort from our hitters, pitchers, bullpen and pinch-hitters, and we need to field the ball at a much higher level," continued Harrison. "We are hot right now, and that's great. But now is the time that you have to rise to the occassion if you want to be a champion.  We have an outstanding group who have the ability to win a champhionship." 

The Yellow Jackets won their only OAC Tournament title in 1985 when they ironically had to win a tripleheader on a Sunday, including a two-game sweep of the Marietta Pioneers. The tourney was held in Berea and inclement weather forced postponements, delays and even a loser's bracket game that had to be played at nearby Oberlin College. With the light fading and the ensuing dusk emerging on that Sunday evening, a BW outfielder caught a flyout that virtually no one saw but the outfielder and the umpire to end the most dramatic day in BW Baseball History.

But that's a history lesson.  Now for the present and future!

Compared to the past four years when the Yellow Jackets set a school record for victories each season, 27-13 in 2012, 27-13 in 2013, 30-20 in 2014 with an NCAA Div. III regional title and their first-ever trip to the Div. III College World Series and 31-12 last season and a return trip to the NCAA regional tourney, this year has been different. But BW is hot at the right time, and that may be the most important factor as the Yellow Jackets play their most important games in 2016.

BW has won its last nine of its last 10 games, including seven of eight OAC contests, OAC doubleheader sweeps of Ohio Northern University (13-0 and 10-2), Capital University (23-0 and 5-2) and the University of Mount Union (8-0 and 9-2) and non-conference wins against Pitt-Bradford (14-7) and 20-win Pitt-Greensburg (19-5).  Both the BW batters and pitchers are hitting the strides and the Jackets have outscored their opponents by a combined 113-29. BW also has won 13 of its last 16 games and scored 10 or more runs in eight of the 13 victories.

The hitting attack is led by its trio of All-OAC standouts in senior pitcher/ shortstop Mark Zimmerman (Akron/ Green), senior first baseman/ designated hitter Hunter Handel (Akron/ Green) and junior 2B/ right fielder Cole Nieto (Brunswick/ Cleveland St. Ignatius). Zimmerman is batting .a team-leading .358 with 15 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 27 runs batted-in (RBI), and he is a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen bases. Handel is batting .341 with 11 doubles, two triples and three homers. He has a team-high 42 RBI. Nieto is batting .276 with 12 doubles, two triples, a team-high five homers and 29 RBI.

In addition, Harrison has a bevy of other hitters who are all just as hot, including freshman OF Reese Albright (North Royalton), who is hitting .342, sophomore 3B Spencer Badia (Bellaire), who is batting .292 with nine doubles, two triples, three homers and 20 RBI, junior catcher/ OF Alex Marcum (Granville), who is batting .273 with 10 doubles, one homer and 33 RBI, and sophomore catcher Trent Kaltenbach (Plain City/ Jonathan Alder), who had a single-game school-record four doubles versus Pitt-Greensburg.

In the last 16 games, BW has raised its batting average 47 points from .241 to its current .288 and outscored its opponents, 163-49. The Yellow Jackets have 80 doubles, nine triples and 19 homers for a .403 slugging average, have drawn 179 walks and own a .381 on-base average.

The pitching staff is anchored by Zimmerman with a 7-3 won-loss record, a 2.66 earned run average (ERA) and 85 strikeouts in a team-high 67 and two-third innings pitched. He has not allowed an earned run or walked a batter in his last 25 innings pitched. Zimmerman is joined in the starting rotation by sophomore All-OAC left-hander Evan Lovick (Mentor), senior Alex Albright (North Royalton) and possibly two others. Lovick tops the OAC with a microscopic 0.57 ERA and is 3-1 with two saves in 47 and one-third innings of work. Albright is 6-3 with a save with a 3.25 ERA and 67 whiffs in 63 and two-third innings pitched.

Add junior All-OAC righty Logan Heffernan (Lebanon), who is 2-0 with a 4.85 ERA in nine appearances and four starts, and senior Connor Murphy (Westford, Mass./ Northeast), who is 0-4 but sports a 2.18 ERA, and Harrison has two guys who can start or relieve that he can depend upon. In the bullpen, senior Tom Loeffler (Shaker Heights) has been the most reliable guy lately. He is 1-0 with two saves and a 1.99 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 22 and two-third innings pitched in 13 appearances. He ended a streak of 17 and two-third innings without allowing an earned run.