The Spartan baseball team dominated the North Atlantic Conference all season long.
Their only NAC loss of the season came against Husson College when they took two out of three from the Eagles in a weekend series at the end of March. But the Spartans’ domination didn’t stop with their NAC opponents. The team had almost every other team’s number as they finished the regular season winning 16 of their last 19 games, ending with an overall record of 23-13.They looked like a sure thing to win the NAC championship for the second year in a row. So what happened?
Coach Ted Shipley says it was fatigue that brought the Spartans down in the end.
“We wore down a bit. The college baseball season is a physical grind, and fitness and staying physically strong is the key to peaking at the right time,” he said.
“We need to learn from this and do a better job with our fitness throughout the entire season.”
Fatigue or no fatigue, the Spartans had a shot at reclaiming their throne atop the NAC. They just caught a bad break, or a bad bounce if you want to look at it that way.
With a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the ninth of the NAC championship game, the Spartans could taste victory. The inning started ominously as the Eagles’ leadoff runner reached base with a bunt single against Spartan reliever Tyler Erickson. Erickson, though, retired the next two batters. He then faced Nick Anthers, NAC Player of the Year, who drew a walk. The next batter, Jeff Miller, got hit by a pitch, loading the bases up.
Then came the game-changing moment.
The Spartan coaching staff decided to make a pitching change to bring in Aaron Zrenda, who had not pitched all season because of an elbow injury. Zrenda faced the designated hitter, Dennis Graham.
“He felt good, looked great in the bullpen, and was the right guy for the job in the situation we were in,” Shipley said.
With two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Graham delivered a devastating blow as he tied the game up with a double.
With Miller at third, Jake Arther approached the plate for Husson. The first pitch that he saw sailed into the dirt close to home plate. The ball took the bad bounce, and Miller stole home, thus ending the Spartans’ campaign to repeat as NAC champions.
Kyle Brooks, the Spartan catcher, said that there has never been a defeat more crushing than this one.
“I am a senior so, I think I speak for all seniors on the team when I say that we had very high expectations, and to not get the job done was one of the most devastating losses any of us have had. To be so close to any championship and let it slip through your fingers, it hurts,” he said.
The Spartans will now have the off-season to reflect on the season they put together and how it went wrong in the end. When they return to action next season, one thing will be for sure: this team will be looking for revenge and looking to prove themselves.
“[The Spartans] are going to be coming in with a lot of strong arms again, and will be even hungrier for the NAC championship and winning games in Regionals, Brooks said.
Junior third baseman Billy Manley echoed Brooks’ sentiments about next year’s team, adding a bold prediction for next year’s team.
“We will win the NAC next season, no doubt in my mind,” he said.