Shenandoah University’s baseball team took another step toward reaching the NCAA Division III playoffs for the sixth straight season.
The Hornets, the third seed in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament, rallied past No. 1 Randolph-Macon for an 8-6 win on Friday at Salem Memorial Ballpark, putting SU a win away from securing its second straight ODAC tournament title and its third since joining the conference in 2013.
Shenandoah, which beat No. 2 Roanoke on Friday night, will play Randolph-Macon, a 2-1 walk-off winner over Virginia Wesleyan in Friday afternoon’s elimination game, again at 11 a.m. today. The Yellow Jackets will have to beat the Hornets twice to win the ODAC title.
SU opened up a 4-0 lead in the top of the first inning against Randolph-Macon on Friday morning but had to rally in the later frames, scoring the go-ahead run on catcher Matt Moon’s suicide squeeze in the top of the eighth.
“Randolph-Macon is very good. They answered right back and kept on and kept on applying pressure,” Hornets head coach Kevin Anderson said in a phone interview minutes after his club picked up its 30th win of the season, the ninth time in the past 11 years that SU has reached that mark. “And our guys got big. Never gave up, continued to battle, used the middle part of the field offensively.
“I can’t say enough great things about the way our guys are competing and performing.”
The Hornets (30-11), winners of 11 straight games, tagged Randolph-Macon starting pitcher Michael Zubovich for four runs in the first inning on four hits, the big one a two-run single by outfielder Grant Thompson, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the win.
“Our guys came out with a good approach vs. Zubovich, as far as trying to use the middle of the baseball field and get him to elevate a bit in the zone,” said Anderson, whose team finished the game with 13 hits, including 10 off Zubovich (seven innings pitched). “He’s a quality pitcher. You can see his numbers. He throws three plus pitches for strikes, and fortunately we got to him early.”
The Yellow Jackets (26-9-1) countered with two runs in the second inning, one in the third and three in the fourth to take a 6-4 lead and end the day for Shenandoah starter Carson Kulina, a freshman right-hander.
SU cut into that two-run deficit with Thompson’s RBI double in the sixth and regained the lead with a pair of runs off Randolph-Macon reliever Tim Barron in the eighth.
Luke Nussman, who went 3-for-5 with two runs scored, led off the eighth with a single and moved to second on Thompson’s one-out hit. A throwing error on Wyatt Potter’s grounder in the hole on the left side of the infield allowed Nussman to score the tying run, and Moon’s bunt on a suicide squeeze sent Thompson across the plate for the go-ahead run.
Shenandoah slugger Keegan Woolford added an insurance run in the ninth with his two-out solo home run, his 12th of the season.
SU’s bullpen held the Yellow Jackets in check after freshman Matt Barnes came on in relief of Kulina with the bases loaded and no outs in the fourth. Barnes allowed the three inherited runners to score on a Shenandoah throwing error, a sacrifice fly and an RBI fielder’s choice in the inning, but he allowed just two hits and a walk over four innings to pick up the win.
“Barnes was throwing three pitches for strikes,” Anderson said. “He was down in the zone. He’s a bulldog on the mound. He really competes. He wants the baseball. … You come in the game, there’s no outs and the bases loaded, as a coach you hope you can get out of there with only giving up one or two, and he did that for us and gave us a chance to win, and we got back in the game.”
Junior closer Gerard DePhillips set a new ODAC and school record by notching his 12th save of the season in a two-inning effort that sealed the win. DePhillips was backed by what Anderson called a great defensive play up the middle by shortstop Robbie Marcelle for the first out in the ninth, and DePhillips closed the win by getting Mike Nickels, the ODAC Player of the Year, to strike out looking.
Shenandoah’s 13-hit outburst on Friday followed the Hornets’ 17-hit barrage in Thursday night’s 11-0 win over Roanoke, though it was Hornets senior left-hander Robert Klinchock who was the highlight of the night in that Game 1 win.
Klinchock tossed a complete-game four-hitter against the Maroons while striking out nine, achieving the rare feat of throwing back-to-back complete-game shutouts in a conference tournament (he threw the other in a tournament win over Hampden-Sydney last Saturday). Klinchock, who has gone the distance in each of his last three starts, hasn’t allowed a run in the last 20 ⅔ innings.
“For the first time in my career, and I’ve never heard this, Robert Klinchock has thrown back-to-back shutouts in the conference tournament. I mean that’s unheard of,” Anderson said. “He just got absolutely huge. We knew if we were gonna win this thing, (in) game one if you can get a complete game, that is big.”
The ODAC announced the all-conference teams before the start of Friday’s games, and four Hornets – DePhillips (second-team reliever), Marcelle (second-team shortstop), Woolford (third-team outfielder) and Tristan Baker (third-team second baseman) – landed on the list.