ANDERSON, Ind. – The No. 14-ranked Franklin College baseball team had a chance to clinch a conference championship on Tuesday (May 1) night with a pair of games against the Anderson University Ravens.
After two hard-fought games against the team right behind them in the standings, the Grizzlies (33-2, 15-1 HCAC) clinched their first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) regular season title since 2009 with a sweep of the Ravens (22-15, 11-5 HCAC). Game one saw the Grizzlies pull away for an 11-3 win while game two featured a shootout that Franklin was able to hold on and win, 14-10.
Not only did the Grizzlies clinch the top seed in the HCAC tournament, but the team set a new single-season program record for wins with 33, breaking the previous record of 32 set back in 2011. The Grizzlies also ran their winning streak to 13 games, setting a new season-best.
"I'm really proud of our guys because they've been tireless workers all season long," Head coach Lance Marshall said. "Every day these guys come ready to work and they're genuinely excited to come to the park every day. It's challenging to stay focused and locked in every day over the course of a season and every guy on the team has been just that."
Game One: Franklin 11 – Anderson 3
Anderson grabbed the lead in their first trip to the plate, but the Grizzlies would erase the early deficit in the second with a two-out solo home run from Alex Mis. One inning later, Franklin held a lead they wouldn't lose the rest of the game. Sam Claycamp put the Grizzlies in front with an RBI single and was followed by a bases loaded walk from Frank Podkul and an RBI double from Drew Naumovich that made it 4-1.
Claycamp would add to the lead in the fourth, bringing home Brandt Pawley and Ryan Erlandson with a one-out double. Erlandson would score on a failed pickoff attempt in the fifth, stretching the lead to 7-2.
The Ravens scratched out a run in the sixth and had the tying run on deck in the seventh before an inning-ending double play squashed the rally. Podkul put the game out of reach with a two-run blast in the eighth and an inning later, Podkul doubled home Quenton Wellington to put the finishing touches on the wing.
Ben Sprinkle (5-0) tossed 2 1/3 innings of three-hit ball to pick up the win for the Grizzlies. Nate Stonebraker earned his third save of the year, allowing just two hits over the final three innings.
Game Two: Franklin 14 – Anderson 10
For the second straight game, the Ravens jumped out to an early lead with a three-run first inning. Claycamp chopped the lead down to one in the top of the third with a two-run home run, but the Ravens would answer with a round-tripper of their own to make it a 4-2 game after three.
The fourth inning saw the Grizzlies hang their first of two five-spots on the boards. Podkul led off the inning with a long home run and Jarrod Smith tied the game three batters later with an RBI single. With two outs and a pair of runners on, the Grizzlies turned to the long ball to take the lead, as Ryan Bixler crushed a pitch over the wall in left for his 10th home run of the year.
But the hosts refused to go quietly, countering with four runs of their own in the fourth to re-take the lead. Mis plated his second RBI of the day in the top of the fifth with a sacrifice fly, knotting things up at 8-8 with half the game to play.
The Grizzlies grabbed momentum and the lead for good with a five-run sixth inning. Bixler continued his monstorous day with a two-run single to put Franklin in front. Two batters later, Wright blasted a three-run home run, giving him seven on the year and staking the Grizzlies to a 13-8 lead.
Anderson plated a pair of runs in their half of the sixth before Smith launched a lead-off home run in the seventh to make it a 14-10 game. The rest of the game fell on the shoulders of Stonebraker and Christian Sullivan, who kept the Ravens off the board over the final three innings. Senior ace Sullivan closed out the conference title with a strikeout and a massive celebration followed on the field.
Alex Reinoehl (5-1) earned the win after allowing two runs on five hits with three strikeouts over 2 2/3 innings of work. Bixler finished with a game-high five RBI while Smith was a team-best 3-for-4 in the night cap.
The Grizzlies won't have long to celebrate, as they're back in action on Wednesday (May 2) afternoon at John P. McDowell Field. The Grizzlies will welcome regionally-ranked Otterbein University to town for a single nine-inning contest. First pitch is set for 4:00 p.m.