Spartans bring UAA Championship back home

Baseball captures second title in two years

Spartan pitcher Rob Winemiller fires home during UAA Championship Tournament in Florida

Courtesy Case Sports Information

Spartan pitcher Rob Winemiller fires home during UAA Championship Tournament in Florida

JP O'Hagan, Sports Editor

The Spartan baseball team is on a mission, and by every indication they are prepared to achieve their ultimate goal: compete for the national championship.

The Spartans took the first big step toward that goal over the past two weeks, bringing home their second University Athletics Association Championship in two years. In addition to celebrating their championship, the Spartans stand at 11-3, are ranked 23rd in the nation and have had their third player named to the Division III National Team of the Week.

“Our guys work incredibly hard,” said head coach Matt Englander. “It was great to win the UAA, we were able to sweep our rival, Emory, and we are happy about that.”

Prior to the Spartans’ championship drive, the team split their two game series the weekend before spring break, beating Denison 12-7 before being handed their first loss by nationally ranked Marietta, dropping the close game 3-2. Any concern that the loss would rattle the team was put to rest as the Spartans entered the UAA Tournament. “It was frustrating to drop to Marietta, just some key mistakes,” said Englander. “We tell our guys that ‘there is no such thing as momentum;’ we let things go, we don’t dwell on the good or bad. Getting the hit once before won’t help them this time up.”

The Spartans embraced this lesson as they started their championship drive, heading down to Florida. The Spartans won five straight to start off the tournament. The first three games the Spartans managed to pull off narrow one run victories, beating Brandeis 9-8, Emory 4-3 and Rochester 6-5 through Tuesday’s play. The Spartans were able to thrive under the pressure of the tournament. All three of those games were come-from-behind wins, a special feat for the Spartans. The team’s strength and conditioning came into play. “Our play doesn’t change much when challenged,” said Englander. “We rely on our work ethic; it isn’t always about how far you can hit the ball or how far you can throw it. We focus on one way to play—it’s about toughness.”

After three days of close calls and come-from-behind wins, the Spartans exploded offensively for 29 runs, while shutting down their opponents, a rematch against Brandeis and the first game against Washington University in St. Louis. In the opening game, the Spartans knocked in 16 runs, and forced an early finish as Brandeis only managed six runs and the varsity mercy run rule cut the game short after eight innings. Connor Faix picked up his first win of the season, helped immensely by the Spartan offensive onslaught to start the second inning when they scored six. Jake Shields picked up the win in the following game of the double header, pitching five and a third innings giving up six. The Spartan bats more than compensated knocking in 13 runs on 15 hits, to stroll into an easy 13-8 victory over Washington.

Despite the 5-0-tournament start, the Spartans dropped their next two games, losing their rematches 3-2 against Rochester and 4-3 against Washington University. After such an explosion earlier, almost any other team would have had concerns of fatigue. The Spartans, however, have been prepared for the trials that the tournament presents. By rotating in different players, an advantage allowed to the Spartans by a deeply talented bench, the team was able to keep from faltering in the Florida heat. “Our guys are in great shape, they work incredibly hard and we have known that this coming up. We prepare all year for this tournament,” said Englander. “We see the season as a marathon full of sprints and we are prepared for it.”

The Spartans rebounded on Saturday handily beating Emory 9-6. The defense and offense worked perfectly in tandem, with Rob Winemiller picking up his first win of the season, and Daniel Sondag picked up his fourth save. The Spartans played smart and simple baseball, not managing any extra base hits, but playing smart ball in order to put up nine runs on 15 hits.

Andrew Gronski, the Spartans’ big hitting third baseman, led the team over the duration of the week. Gronski is the third Spartan to be given such a high honor this season, following teammates Noah Sherman (first base) and Jordan Swisher (catcher). Over the week Gronski batted an amazing .567 (17 of 30), knocked in 11 RBIs and was only a double away from hitting his second cycle this season on Wednesday in the 16-6 Spartan victory over Brandeis. A .369 career hitter, Gronski is having an amazing start to the season, currently hitting .569 with four homers and 23 RBIs. “Gronski is playing like the best player in the nation right now,” said Englander, “but a lot of guys have stepped up to get us here.”

Due to the wet and cold conditions still hovering around Cleveland, the Spartans will play the previously expected home opener away this weekend, playing at opponent Ohio Wesleyan in a four game series at Littick Field in Delaware, OH.