TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – For the first time in program history, the Franklin College baseball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years after winning a thrilling Heartland Collegiate Championship game on Sunday (May 12) afternoon.
The Grizzlies (28-13) tangled with top-seeded Rose-Hulman (27-12) on a chilly and damp day at Art Nehf Field and the two sides turned in an instant classic. In the end, junior Quenton Wellington sent the Grizzlies into the national tournament with a two-out, walk-off single to cap a thrilling 9-8 Franklin win.
Wellington was one of four Grizzlies named to the all-tournament team after the game, joining senior pitchers Aaron Leming and Nate Stonebraker as well as Tournament MVP Sam Claycamp. The junior and Indianapolis, Ind.-native scored twice and had a pair of hits, none bigger than the game's deciding with a very special fan in the stands.
"I'm still shocked about it right now," A drenched Wellington said after the game. "To be able to get the championship-winning hit in a conference tournament is surreal. We knew we could pull this off in hostile territory and we did. It was also a nice gift to give to my mom on Mother's Day with her in attendance."
The Engineers opened the game with a two-run, four-hit first inning, but the Grizzlies would respond in their first trip to the plate. Franklin didn't record a hit in the bottom of the inning, but five batters would reach either by walk or hit by pitch. Nick Wright brought in the first run of the game for FC with a bases loaded walk and Alex Mis tied the game two batters later with a sac fly.
Two innings later, the Grizzlies relied on their methodical approach at the plate to load the bases with one down. Jarrod Smith would put Franklin on top for the first time in the game, knocking in Claycamp with a sac fly. In the fourth, Claycamp stretched the lead with a two-run single and scored his first run of the day when Wright knocked him in with a single, putting the Grizzlies up 6-2 after four frames.
But the tournament's top seed refused to go away quietly, plating two in the fifth and another in the sixth to get back within a run. Rose completed their comeback in the top of the seventh inning, getting a two-out RBI double from Luke Calabrese to put the two teams right back where they started at the start of the day.
With the bulk of the crowd cheering against them, the Grizzlies had an answer in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and two on, Brandt Pawley laced a single into left that scored Smith, who just beat the throw with a head-first slide into home to make it a 7-6 game. Ryan Bixler knocked in a run in the bottom of the eighth, staking the Grizzlies to a two-run lead with three outs to go.
But the league's regular season champs would show their resolve with their backs against the wall, scoring twice in the top of the ninth to push the game to the bottom of the inning. Smith led off the bottom of the inning with a single, but was gunned down at second on a fielder's choice. He was replaced on first by Logan Demkovich, who moved up to second when Pawley grounded out to first for the second out of the inning.
That brought Wellington to the plate for the fifth time in the game, and he deposited the first pitch he saw into shallow right field. Demkovich hustled around third and crossed the plate standing up for the winning run with the entire team pouring out of the dugout to celebrate afterwards.
Stonebraker (5-3) was credited with the win after throwing the final three innings. Krae Sparks got the start for the Grizzlies, allowing five runs and striking out three without walking a batter in 5 1/3 innings. Tanner Nicholson retired both batters he faced in relief of Sparks in the sixth in his first conference tournament appearance.
The Grizzlies will find out where they are headed for the NCAA Regionals when the field is announced on Monday afternoon. The selection show is set to begin at noon and will be streamed on NCAA.com.