A week ago, the Baldwin Wallace University baseball team thought their season was over.
After losing the OAC Championship to John Carroll, the seniors thought they had played their last game and the underclassmen had already turned their sights to next season.
"A week ago all of us seniors were huddled up in the outfield embracing what we thought would be our last moments as teammates and last moments as Yellow Jackets," said senior third baseman, Brad Gugliotta. "When we found out we got the bid for the tournament it hit us all pretty hard, we had a second chance, and how quickly our team came together was amazing."
The Yellow Jackets took that feeling of shock, and turned it into a record-setting regional run.
As the fourth-seed in the Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional, the Yellow Jackets were given little chance by anyone outside of the program, but most importantly, the 24 men in brown and yellow believed.
En route to Sunday’s Regional Championship, BW took down fifth-seed Misericordia (Pa.) University, 8-4, eighth-seed Haverford (Pa.) College, 10-2 and third-seed Susquehanna (Pa.) University, 4-1. The three wins landed them a spot in the championship and just one win away from their first trip to the DIII College World Series.
The championship game started the way parts of the regular season seemed to go for the Jackets, with the baseball gods against them.
Their opponent, Wesleyan University of Connecticut, jumped out to an early 6-1 lead thanks to a big, but bizarre second inning.
Wesleyan put runs across the plate with two squeeze bunts, and even a broken glove by way of Jackets’ first baseman Kyle Chontos.
"That’s such a freak thing to happen that I thought things were against us for sure," Chontos said on his broken glove.
Senior Corey Waite and his fellow Yellow Jackets celebrate their Mid-Atlantic Regional Championship victory. (Photo by Chris Knight)
Luckily for the Jackets, the tides turned, and they managed to keep their gloves in one piece as well.
"We battled. We knew they didn’t have very many arms left, so we just went up there looking to have good at bats and string some stuff together," said Chontos.
Senior right-hander Cory Waite was relieved by senior left-hander Corey Durbin during the second inning, and from that point on, it was the Jackets’ game. Durbin went five and two-thirds innings giving up only one run, earning his first win of the season.
A four-run sixth inning, and a three-run seventh inning, gave the Jackets a 9-7 lead. And once they had the lead, it was no question who they were turning the ball over to — sophomore closer Brandon Cicocki.
Cicocki pitched two scoreless innings recording his school-record eighth save of the season.
At the plate, the Jackets were led by sophomore second baseman Mark Zimmerman, who went 3-for-4 with a triple, a run scored, and an RBI. Following the win, Zimmerman, a first-team All-OAC selection, was named the tournament MVP.
"I flew under the radar most of the tournament struggling with my swing. I finally started to come out of the slump the last few days," Zimmerman said. "We have such a strong lineup, I always get good pitches to hit. We always have a few guys in our lineup that are hot and I just happened to get hot before the championship game."
With the win, Baldwin Wallace punched their ticket to Appleton, Wisconsin, and their school’s first trip to the DIII College World Series. Also, for the third straight season, BW set a school record with 29 wins, and Head Coach Brian Harrison won his 100th game as the skipper for the Jackets.
Coach Harrison likes the records, but according to Baldwin Wallace’s website, he knows the team needs to stay focused on their games left to play.
"Records are nice," said Harrison, "but that’s something that we have to put in the back our minds right now. Our focus has to be on the next game with the ultimate goal of winning the Division III national title."
Due to a school-wide postseason ban, last year’s team lost their opportunity to make noise in the Ohio Athletic Conference and national tournaments. The disappointment carried over into this season, and Gugliotta attributes some of this year’s success to the culture created by last year’s team.
"Last years seniors had the playoffs taken from them and I like to think our run this year is a product of what they started at BW, so they deserve to share in all of our success."
Those seniors, and all the Baldwin Wallace baseball alumni around the world, have been watching.
"The most rewarding part of this success may be the texts and phone calls I’ve gotten from my former teammates. Being a part of this program has been more than just baseball the past few years. I’ve made so many lifelong friends," Gugliotta said.
The celebration can’t go on for too long however, because the Jackets now have their sights set on the ultimate prize, a national championship.
"The chip on our shoulders is far from lifted, and Appleton is the next stop."
As an alumni, and one of those seniors from last year’s team, I can honestly say, I have never been prouder to be a Yellow Jacket.