BEREA, Ohio – Just 11 days ago, the Otterbein baseball team was in danger of missing the postseason after a loss against John Carroll at Fishbaugh Field. Fast forward to Saturday afternoon at Fisher Field, and the Cardinals completed a memorable rally to claim the program's seventh Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) Tournament crown.
Backed into a corner and needing to fight their way out, the Cards received help from other conference games and then posted a doubleheader sweep at Marietta just to sneak into the OAC's double-elimination postseason event as the fourth and final seed on the campus of Baldwin Wallace. After wins over BW and Ohio Northern, Otterein punctuated its clean three-game sweep through the bracket with a thrilling 7-3 triumph over No. 2 seed Heidelberg in a well-played championship game.
As a result, head coach George Powell and his squad earn the league's automatic bid to compete in the upcoming NCAA Division III Championships. The Cards will learn their opening-round opponent and regional on Monday.
Otterbein has now registered OAC titles in each of the past four seasons, winning the regular season in 2016 and 2018 along with tournament victories in 2017 and 2019. The Cards have now won eight games in a row and improve to a 26-16-1 record.
Heidelberg, which shared this year's regular-season title with BW, needed to beat Otterbein twice on championship Saturday after fighting its way back through the consolation ladder. The Student Princes took an early lead in the second inning when reigning National Hitter of the Week Eric DeVore came up with a sacrifice fly.
Otterbein responded when Dmitri Collaros poked an RBI-single up the middle to score Tim Snyder in the fourth, and then jumped ahead an inning later when Connor Brett smoked a two-out RBI-double to right field that brought Luke Barber around from first base. Heidelberg (30-13) countered with a two-out hit of its own in the bottom half and then showdown entered a 2-2 stalemate through eight innings.
The Cardinal bats eventually broke through against Heidelberg closer Joey Wenning, who initially entered in the fifth and embarked on easily his longest outing of the spring. All-American shortstop Ben Beachy, playing in his school record 174th career game, opened with a lead-off double and the bases ultimately became loaded with no outs.
Brett, who named the tournament's Dick Fishbaugh Most Valuable Player, delivered a go-ahead single to right center that launched a five-run rally. Snyder followed with a single up the middle, Collaros drew a bases-loaded walk, Tyler Thompson had a fielder's choice RBI and Adam Stotler smacked a single through the left side.
The cushion was enough for senior Jaryd Murphy on the hill, who went the final three innings from the bullpen and earned the pitching win. He allowed just one late run on an infield single before a swinging strikeout erupted the Cardinal dugout onto the field for a dogpile celebration.
Collaros hit 3 for 4 and was on base four times, while Barber and Brett each finished 2 for 4. Those three joined standout pitchers Collin Hoffmann and Johnny Putnam on the All-Tournament Team. Brett hit 5 for 8 across the final two days and made a handful of nice defensive plays down at third base with his glove.
Freshman Travis Engard started the game and took a no-decision, allowing just the two runs in 4.2 innings while working hard out of multiple situations. Classmate Travis Burson recorded four critical outs in the middle portion.
Both teams had at least one baserunner in every at-bat until the bottom of the seventh, when Murphy finally posted the first 1-2-3 frame. Overall, a combined 23 runners were left stranded on base throughout the day.
Kane Bateman hit 3 for 4 at the top of the lineup for Heidelberg, which was looking for its first OAC Tournament title since capping a three-year run from 2008-10. The Student Princes will now wait to see if they receive an NCAA at-large bid.
NCAA details will be released early next week once the full bracket and regional sites become available.