Spartan baseball explodes to 4-0 start

JP O'Hagan, Sports Editor

Despite the cold weather and snow on the ground, the Spartan baseball team began their season red-hot with a 4-0 start last weekend.

The Spartans played John Carroll University, Franklin and Marshall College, and two games against Guilford College to round out their opening weekend. Strong wins and performances led to numerous accolades for the team as they move into the rest of the season. Two Spartans were honored this week, with third baseman Andrew Gronski named University Athletics Association Hitter of the Week and Noah Sherman was named to the Division III Team of the Week. “The awards are well deserved,” said head coach Matt Englander, “both those guys are very talented and I won’t be surprised if they are honored again later in the season.”

The beginning of any new season brings with it a lot of excitement. The Spartans are posed and ready to capitalize on their team’s talent, and look to repeat last season’s success. Last spring the Spartans rose to 21st in the nation and look for a similarly strong season, looking to be on track after this past weekend. The team has a very talented base, and relies on all members of the team to put games in the win column. “We rely on each member of the team,” said Englander, “Not everyone makes the team and therefore everyone has a special role.”

The Spartans stepped into those roles with full force, opening their season against crosstown rival John Carroll University with 8-7 win. With snow still on the ground here in Cleveland the game was played at a neutral site, Linda K. Epling Stadium in West Virginia. The Blue Streaks jumped out to a 4-1 lead after three innings of play. The Spartans battled back for a single run in the bottom of the fourth and then grabbed a one run lead off a three run 5th inning. After another two and a half innings of scoreless play, the Spartans blew the game wide open, with another three runs in the bottom of the eighth, putting John Carroll in a do or die situation heading into the top of the ninth. The Blue Streaks battled for life putting up three in the final half inning, but it wasn’t enough as the Spartans put three away and saved the need for a bottom of the ninth. Zach Tobias hit his first collegiate home run and drove in one in off his RBI double in the crucial fifth inning. Freshman pitcher Jake Shields earned the win in his Spartans debut, putting up 3 and 2/3 scoreless innings.

Following the win over John Carroll, the Spartans headed further south to Greensboro, N.C. to face Guilford College. In a big slug out game with a final score looking for like a football final than a baseball score, the Spartans beat the Quakers 23-11 on Saturday afternoon. The Spartans exploded offensively following the lead of Gronski who hit two homers, drove in seven runs, and hit for the cycle in Saturday’s blowout win. The Spartans were efficient in their offense, putting up their 23 runs off just as many hits, each scoring inning managing at least three runs. Guilford was relatively quiet putting up only two runs until the bottom of the eighth when the Quakers bombarded the Spartans with nine runs. The Spartans responded with seven to stop any hope of a comeback and finished the day with their second win in as many games.

On Sunday the Spartans played their first doubleheader of the season, playing Franklin and Marshall in the morning, and then again out slugging Guilford in their afternoon rematch. The Spartans exploded for eight runs in the first inning and wouldn’t look back from there, putting up 18 runs and only allowing three. The second game against Guilford was another shootout as the teams combined for eight home runs in the extremely close 13-12 game. Ray Kelly picked up the win in the shootout, with Daniel Sondag pitching shutdown baseball to pick up the save. “It is harder to repeat success,” said Englander, “Moving forward it will be understanding why we succeeded and repeat those performances.”

The Spartans will have another full weekend ahead of them as they head back to West Virginia to play the current No. 15 team Marrietta in two doubleheaders for four games on Saturday and Sunday. “We were able to go and beat Marietta twice at home last season, which is hard to do,” said Englander, “They are a good team and playing them we know we are good enough, up to the challenge.”