FRANKLIN, Ind. – For the first time since 2011, the Franklin College baseball team is heading to the NCAA Tournament after winning the 2018 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) tournament on their home field on Saturday (May 12) afternoon.
The Grizzlies (38-3) completed their perfect run through the conference tournament, closing out the weekend with a 7-1 win over second-seeded Anderson University (25-20) to earn the program's second HCAC Tournament championship.
Senior Aaron Leming went the distance on the hill for the Grizzlies, scattering nine hits and striking out four to improve to 7-0 on the year. Junior Sam Claycamp drove in three runs and four different Grizzlies had multiple hits as Franklin ensured their storybook season would have at least one more chapter.
"This was an incredible weekend," Leming said after the game. "We've always wanted to host it and win the whole thing and to get to do both is a dream come true."
"We had an unbelievable weekend and to be able to do this at home is just phenomenal," Senior outfielder Ryan Erlandson added. "We had our family and friends in the "couch crew" behind us the whole way and to get the job done in front of all of them was just awesome."
Riding the wave of a thrilling win over Rose-Hulman in the morning to stay alive, the Ravens jumped on the board in the first with a two-out rally capped by an RBI single from Corbin Maddox that plated Joe Moran. But just as they have done so many times in 2018, the Grizzlies countered immediately with run-scoring singles from Claycamp and Nick Wright in their half of the first to take a 2-1 lead.
Anderson loaded the bases in their half of the second, but Leming would escape trouble by forcing a fly out to close the frame. Both offenses would go quietly until the sixth, when the Grizzlies added a little insurance to their lead.
Wright doubled with one out in the inning, bringing freshman Jacob Bryant to the dish. After entering the game in the second as a defensive substitution, Bryant came up with the biggest hit of his young career, doubling home Wright to make it a 3-1 game. One batter later, Bryant came in to score when Jackson Freed laced a single into left field. Later in the inning, Jarrod Smith brought another run home with a run-scoring single of his own, making it a 5-1 game.
After Leming escaped another jam in the sixth, Claycamp delivered the dagger in the bottom of the seventh. With one out and Erlandson on first, Claycamp launched a 1-1 pitch over the left field wall for his eighth home run of the year. That proved to be all the cushion Leming needed, as he retired the final six batters to finish off his first complete game of the year.
"I stayed confident in myself and knew that the guys behind me had my back no matter what," Leming added. "Knowing that our defense had my back made my job easy. If I make a mistake, I know our defense is going to pick me up and that's huge for any pitcher."
After the game, Leming, Wright, Claycamp and Frank Podkul were named to the all-tournament team. Sophomore outfielder Ryan Bixler was named tournament MVP after batting .416 (5-for-12) with three home runs and five runs scored over the weekend.
Franklin will find out where they're going for regionals when the brackets are released on Sunday (May 13) night. Check with franklingrizzlies.com to find out where the Grizzlies will be competing in the NCAA Tournament.