TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – A spot in the first championship-clinching game in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Tournament was on the line on Friday (May 10) night when the second-seeded Franklin Grizzlies met top-seeded Rose-Hulman under the lights at Art Nehf Field.
Facing off against one of the league's top pitchers on the host team's home field, the Grizzlies (27-13) got a dominant pitching performance from senior Aaron Leming, a strong outing from the defense and a methodical offensive showing that led to a 7-2 win over the Engineers (26-11). The win keeps Franklin unbeaten in the conference tournament and gives them the chance to clinch the conference tournament championship on Saturday afternoon.
"There's something about pitching in the conference tournament that brings out the best in players," Leming said after the game. "There's and energy in the park the competition is at its best. I wanted to give us a chance to win and we were able to do that."
Quenton Wellington got the Grizzlies going in the top of the first, leading off the inning with a double off Engineer ace Luke Buehler. He would come in to score with two outs in the first when an errant throw allowed Nick Wright to reach with two outs, spotting Franklin a 1-0 lead.
The next two trips to the plate resulted in zeros for the Grizzlies, but the fourth inning proved to be a fruitful one. The Grizzlies loaded the bases with nobody out and plated runs on consecutive singles by Jarrod Smith and Logan Demkovich. With two outs and the bags still loaded, Drew Naumovich brought in a run with a walk and Sam Claycamp followed with a two-run single to make it a 6-0 game.
"As a pitcher, it's so much easier to work when your offense puts a crooked number on the board," Leming added. "It makes mistakes hurt less and I was able to stay true to myself as a pitcher with that six-run lead."
The tournament hosts wouldn't go away quietly, getting on the board with a two-run fifth inning. But Leming would hold the Engineers in check over the final four innings, getting a massive boost from his defense to close the eighth when Wellington ran down a gap shot and threw out a runner on the move for an inning-ending double play.
Smith led off the bottom of the eighth with a double and came in to score later in the inning on a balk. The rest was elementary, as Leming sat the Engineers down in the ninth to close out the win.
Leming improved to 7-2 on the year, scattering seven hits and walking two while striking out seven on 122 pitches. In two HCAC Tournament starts, Leming has tossed two complete game victories, allowing just three runs over 18 innings in the conference tourney.
The Grizzlies will have the chance to clinch their second straight conference tournament on Saturday (May 11) afternoon. The Grizzlies will play at approximately 3:30 p.m. against either Rose-Hulman or the winner of the final game on Friday night between Anderson and Defiance.