Baseball Upsets Gators, Fighting Scots
After splitting the first two games of its series against the DePauw University Tigers, Oberlin baseball emerged victorious in the rubber match on Sunday, winning 11–1 to earn a spot in the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament. This is the team’s second ever appearance in the tournament, with the first coming in 2013. In that appearance, the Yeomen won their second game against the Denison University Big Red but were eliminated from the tournament after falling to both the College of Wooster Fighting Scots and the Allegheny College Gators in subsequent games.
Senior captain Ben Whitener opened Sunday’s scoring in the top of the first inning, ripping a two-run home run to right field to score senior Andrew Hutson. With the team’s season on the line, Whitener knew getting off to that fast start was crucial.
“It was important to set the tone early,” Whitener said. “If the first inning goes poorly, no matter how well you’ve prepared or how disciplined you are, the game can just go downhill from there.”
The score remained 2–0 in Oberlin’s favor until the top of the fourth inning. With senior Danny Baldocchi on second and Whitener on third, classmate Ryan Bliss knocked an RBI single down the left-field line to push the score to 3–0. After a sac fly by Blaise Dolcemaschio, an error by the Gators’ shortstop and a single by senior Kyle Decker, the Yeomen extended their lead to 6–0. It was a lead they would not relinquish.
The Yeomen put the game away in the sixth inning, scoring five runs, all with two outs. Following a two-out double from Justin Cruz, seniors Jeff Schweighoffer and Kyle Decker singled, and Hutson walked to load the bases for Whitener. Whitener proceeded to put an exclamation point on the game, hitting a grand slam for his fifth home run of the season.
On the defensive side of things, first-year right-hander Milo Sklar made sure the game stayed out of reach, stringing together 8.1 innings of one-run ball, while limiting the Tigers to just seven hits. Sklar, a sidearmer, threw 126 pitches in the game, striking out eight and walking five.
Though Sklar came into the season as a shortstop, the coaching staff quickly converted him to a pitcher, and he has responded well.
“I understood that I could contribute to the team, but I didn’t think I’d do it as a pitcher,”
he said. “I just started pitching a couple months ago. I came in as an infielder and started pitching, and it just caught pretty quickly. It’s been kind of a shock.”
According to Sklar, the plan was for him to pitch only temporarily. With many seniors on the team, Sklar and his coaches recognized that he would not get much playing time as an infielder but could make a more meaningful contribution as a pitcher.
“The plan was to go back and play short next year, but I’ve been exceeding those expectations as a pitcher,” he said.
Sklar said he has enjoyed his new position and likes being able to contribute so heavily to the team’s success, but admits that the position requires a different mentality of him.
“It’s a different mindset,” he said. “It’s about being ready for your time and going in when you need to, and being fully energized and focused. There’s a lot of time just waiting the entire weekend for a couple innings.”
The victory was a sign that the Yeomen are finally hitting their stride, putting together a solid effort in all facets of the game.
“All of our conference games this season have gone the same way, where we either have great pitching, decent defense and poor hitting, or we have decent pitching, great defense and poor hitting,” Whitener said. “We never seem to put it all together at the same time. And then against DePauw there were two games where we absolutely put it all together.”
With the DePauw series behind them, the Yeomen turned their focus to the first game of the conference tournament against the Allegheny College Gators. Earlier this season, the Yeomen were swept by the Gators in a four-game series, but the Yeomen’s confidence was still running high heading into the game.
“I don’t think we ever played poorly against [Allegheny],” Whitener said. “We lost a lot of close games. We’re just looking to be just a little bit better.” The Gators beat the Yeomen 10–7, 8–2, 7–6 and 16–12 in the previous series.
“We didn’t close out a couple of games against them,” he added. “We had last-inning leads in two of the four games and blew it in the last inning.”
Before Thursday’s game, Whitener said the team had a lot of will to beat the Gators.
“A lot of guys in our dugout would especially love to get a win out of Allegheny,” he said. “That’s a team that we’ve struggled against in the past but a team that we really want to beat. More than most other teams, that’s for sure.”
The team’s confidence proved to be more than just posturing on Thursday; the Yeomen battled back from an early 3–0 deficit to win the opening game of the tournament by a score of 7–6. A seventh inning, three-run triple from Bliss was the key blow, breaking a 3–3 tie and giving the Yeomen breathing room to complete the comeback.
The team’s momentum continued into the next game against the Fighting Scots, who came into the tournament ranked 11th in the nation. After falling behind 2–0 in the first inning, the Yeomen strung together 11 unanswered runs en route to a 11–6 victory.
The Yeomen will look to continue their winning streak in the NCAC Championship on Friday at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, Ohio.