Root, root, root for the home team

Spartan Baseball finally able to open at home


courtesy case sports information

Spartan third baseman Andrew Gronski connects with a pitch during a game last season.

JP O'Hagan, Sports Editor

As the cleats of the men’s baseball team stepped onto the field Saturday afternoon, the Spartans were finally home.

The Spartans won three of their first four home games of the season this year, and four of their last five. They’ve also exploded offensively, outscoring their opponents 46-17. “It was great to finally play at Nobby’s,” said head coach Matt Englander. “We hadn’t even had the chance to practice on our field at this spring before playing our first game.”

The Spartans had their crosstown rematch against Baldwin Wallace postponed on Thursday, but they finally started their first game at Nobby’s on Saturday afternoon. In the doubleheader against Westminster, the Spartans’ bats connected consistently, knocking in 33 runs in a mere 15 offensive innings, and gave up only one. The Spartans won the opener by a score of 12-1 and in the second game they invoked the “varsity rule” by knocking in 21 runs to demolish Westminster in six and a half innings, 21-0.

In the opener, the Spartans jumped out to an early one run lead in the bottom of the first, and were boosted by their two multi-run innings, scoring five in the bottom of the fourth and four in the second half of the seventh. The Spartans’ bats were efficient in driving in runs, needing only 17 hits and all of them for one or two bases. Center fielder Aaron Cain connected in four of his five plate appearances, and the rest of the Spartans connected when they needed to drive in runs. Neal Krentz, the Spartans’ starter, picked up his second wins of the season and is currently 2-0 for Case Western Reserve University this season. He pitched a solid six innings of scoreless baseball, giving up only three hits and fanning three.

In the second game, the Spartans, warmed up from the opener, demolished Westminster. The Spartans went with a younger roster, working in plenty of guys off the bench in order, giving the starters a rest. The roster’s depth shown through, as the Spartans scored two or more runs in the first five innings, shutting down any chance of a Westminster rally. In the fifth, the Spartans scored seven runs, putting the final nail in the Westminster coffin, leaving them to wait until the bottom of the seventh for the varsity rule to take effect.

Left fielder Antonio Damiano led the Spartans, going three-for-three with a double and an RBI. Jake Shields picked up his third win of the season on the mound for Case, giving up only one hit in five innings of work, striking out ten. “We worked in a lot of guys, which was great,” said Englander. “Every guy on the team doesn’t want to mess up or get an out, no matter if it is a close game or a blowout. They are all dedicated to playing their best. “

On Sunday, the Spartans faced one of their most formidable opponents of the season: a doubleheader against nationally-ranked Marietta. The Spartans started the day on a strong note. Jumpstarted by five runs in half of the second, the Spartans went on to another five runs and held off a late push by Marietta to climb out of the hole—Marietta scored four runs in the last three innings. The Spartans held on for the 10-5 win for starting pitcher John Fortunato’s fifth win of the season.

Sadly, the outstanding play that marked the rest of the weekend disappeared as the Spartans dropped the second game against Marietta 9-1. The turnaround started early as the Pioneers scored two in the first and put together a five-run eighth inning before even a single Spartan crossed the plate. “Everything was different that second game. The difference was insane, we can do better,” said Englander.

The Spartans followed up a dominant opening weekend with suddenly quieter bats. Playing the College of Wooster on Wednesday, Case relied on their defense over their bats, and held the Fighting Scots to only four hits and no runs after knocking in single runs in the first and second innings. The lack of offense failed to faze the Spartans, however, as they battled their way out of each inning. Shields got the start for the second time this week and picked up his fourth win of the season, while making up for the comparative lack of scoring by striking out five.

The Spartans are still focused on their singular goal, a NCAA tournament berth. As an at-large bid team, the Spartans will need to maintain their success against their strong opponents; a large factor is not only record, but strength of schedule. Despite the scheduling troubles due to Cleveland’s notoriously crummy weather, the Spartans are poised to continue their success against one of the nation’s toughest strength of schedule.

The Spartans will be taking that next step, with their rematch against Baldwin Wallace on Thursday (rescheduled from Tuesday), which if the weather held out, occurred after The Observer went to print. The Spartans will next play Washington and Jefferson College this weekend at Nobby’s Ballpark with one game on Saturday and one on Sunday.