By CIDINE SYDNEY-BREWINGTON
Good things come to those who wait, work hard and want it really bad. After being ranked seventh in preseason predictions and two rough years riddled with injuries, good things came to the Bat Govs on Saturday, May 28. They upset Jacksonville State, 7-3 to become the 2011 Ohio Valley Conference Champions.
This is the third time the Govs have won both the regular season and the tournament. They won in 1996 and 2007, and their fourth tournament win overall.
“I’m just really proud of these guys, it’s exciting for every guy on our team and the people at the school and the community and it’s great,” said head coach Gary McClure.
“This is definitely something that never gets old, I can tell you that. It never gets old winning these championships,” McClure said. “We’ve won regular seasons as well, but … the tournament ones are great because they send you where you really want to go, the NCAA Tournament.”
The Govs advanced to the NCAA Atlanta Regional and played against No. 1 seed Georgia Tech. The Bat Govs upset them with a 2-1 victory Friday, June 3.
Their next opponent was No. 3 seed Mississippi State. The Govs were defeated 2-8 Saturday, June 4.
In the elimination game Sunday, June 5, the Yellow Jackets ended the No. 4 seed Govs (34-24) post-season run with a 12-2 win.
OVC Game 1:
APSU (2) vs. Tennessee Tech (1)
Although senior right hand pitcher Ryne Harper got his eighth save in the game, junior left hand pitcher Jeremy Dobbs made a crucial save in the top of the seventh inning.
With two runs, the Govs had to defend their lead. Tennessee Tech scored their first run with a player at third poised to tie the score. To try and force a run, TTU’s batter bunted. Dobbs quickly scooped up the ball and hurled it to freshman catcher Matt Wollenzin for the out at home.
“Dobbs was great. Dobbs was great,” McClure said repeatedly. “He was very competitive … and showed he was paying attention at the pitcher’s fielding practices.”
In addition to that cruical play, Dobbs was not only crucial in that play, he struck out five and allowed three hits in the eight innings he pitched.
The Govs scored their two runs of the game in the third and fourth innings during a two inning raining spell that began in the third.
“You’ve got to win that first one,” McClure said. “And when you got the target on your back, so to speak, like we do when you’ve won the league, sometimes that first one is the toughest one and I’m really glad to have it behind us and that our guys did a great job holding on and winning.”
OVC Game 2: APSU (4) vs. JSU (1)
In the Govs’ second game of tournament play, neither team relinquished their hold on the other. JSU scored the first run of the game on a Govs’ throwing error in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The Govs immediately rectified their wrong in the seventh. Sophomore left fielder Cody Hudson hit a home run to even the score after two outs.
The eighth inning was uneventful with three straight outs for APSU: a fly to right field, an out at first from the pitcher to the third baseman and a strikeout. The Govs managed a rally in the ninth to seal the win.
Junior left fielder Jon Clinard pinch hit for Wollenzin and singled to right field. Next, Freshman second baseman Jordan Hankins reached first with a walk as Clinard advanced to second. After a line out to first base by junior Blake Frazier, Hudson reached first on a fielder’s choice and advanced to second, which brought in Clinard and Hankins.
The lineup started over with freshman right fielder Rolando Gautier. He was intentionally walked so JSU’s pitcher could pitch to a right handed batter.
Junior center fielder Michael Blanchard singled past the short stop, advancing Hudson to third. After redshirt junior third baseman Greg Bachman got out at first and another intentional walk of lefty sophomore first baseman John Hogan, Hudson scored the last run.
“Our guys just fought so hard and I’m really proud of them. That was just a survival of the fittest tonight. It really was. Both teams just really battled,” McClure said. “[And] obviously Jack pitched an unbelievable game. He pitched his heart out. What more can you ask?”
Redshirt senior and left handed pitcher Jack Snodgrass pitched his career best for 7.2 innings. He fanned 11, five in a row after he was hit in the arm by a line drive early in the third inning.
“That felt like a monstrous game. It felt like that was the championship for me. It was obviously the only game I was going to pitch, so I treated it like a championship game,” Snodgrass said. “It was just a lot of fun out there and I’m glad that I did everything I could to get us a win.”
OVC Game 3: Championship
APSU (7) vs. JSU (3)
In the second game of a doubleheader for JSU, and last game of the tournament, APSU pounded out a 7-3 win to take the championship.
After JSU scored two of their three runs in the top of the sixth inning, the Govs immediately answered back with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, thanks to Hogan’s two-run homer. Hogan had a team high 13 home runs on the season.
The third game of the tournament started off on fire as Gautier tripled to center. Redshirt sophomore Zach Toney pitched 7.2 innings. He allowed nine hits and three walks and struck out six. “There was a lot on my shoulders, [but] I just knew that if I just [went] out and filled up the zone then we would put our team in a great chance of winning,” Toney said.
With the win, Toney improved his record to 6-2 and redshirt junior right hand pitcher Mike Hebert, who came in for Toney in the seventh with two outs, notched his second save.
NCAA Game 1: APSU (2) vs. Georgia Tech (1)
The No. 4-seed Govs shocked the No. 1 seed Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets with a 2-1 victory in the first game of the 2011 NCAA Atlanta Regional.
It was Hankins’ home run in the top of the seventh after two strikeouts that broke the three-inning tie of 1-1. The Govs got on the board first with a run in the fourth by Hogan who doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly to center by freshman catcher Matt Wollenzin.
Snodgrass led the way after McClure made a last-minute decision to start Snodgrass instead of Dobbs.
“I coach with my gut, I coach with feeling. I think everyone does to a certain extent. I felt (Snodgrass) was our guy. He’s hot right now. If we are gonna win, this is the best way to win it,” McClure said.
Snodgrass allowed seven hits and struck out five, proving McClure made the right decision.
“All week I thought it was Dobbs. Coach Mac mentioned I might play, and I said, ‘Give me the ball; I’ll be ready to go.’” Snodgrass said.
McClure brought in redshirt junior right hand pitcher Mike Hebert in relief, who pitched two-thirds of the eighth and Toney, the team’s third starter, was brought in to close.
He closed the game with two strikeoutss and allowed no hits.
NCAA Game 2:
APSU (2) vs. Mississippi State (8)
The Bulldog’s pitcher, freshman right-hander Evan Mitchell, pitched eight innings, allowed six hits, three walks (before the ninth) and pitched eight strikeouts in 33 at bats.
The Govs had a rough fourth inning when the Bulldogs scored seven, which brought the score to 8-0. Dobbs’ pitched 4.2 innings but left when a blister on his finger popped.
NCAA Game 3: APSU (2) vs. Georgia Tech (12)
The Govs played a grueling nine innings in their second NCAA match up with the No. 1 seed Georgia Tech for elimination. The No. 4 seed Govs ended their season with a 12-2 loss.
“I tell these guys … you win by playing defense day in and day out,” McClure said. The defense of the Yellow Jackets proved his point because it was their defense that kept the Govs at two runs.
Toney (6-3) started and pitched 2.1 innings, with the Yellow Jackets scoring five runs. Harper came in and held them off with five strikes and one run. Harper was taken out in the seventh and Hebert came in for the remainder of the inning. Redshirt freshman left hand pitcher Alex Belew pitched the eighth and junior right hand pitcher Chuck Edlin handled the ninth.
To prepare for the Yellow Jacket defense, McClure made changes to the lineup. “We just needed faster, scrappier guys. I can’t say it helped us any,” McClure said.
Offensively the Govs made consistent contact with the ball. Of the 33 at bats, eight were strikeouts, but because of the Yellow Jackets’ defense, the rest were assisted and unassisted putouts.
The Govs did make a run in the eighth when redshirt senior Shayne Martin pinch hit for Clinard and made it to first on a walk. After a strike by Blanchard, Bachman doubled to right field and brought Martin in.
Hogan, next in the lineup, singled to right field and advanced to second on a passed ball advancing Bachman home.