Written by Brian Ehresman. Media by Wes O’Dell
Following a week-long trip to Florida and what probably felt like a week-long bus ride home, the Greenville College Baseball team had to make a quick turnaround to prepare for conference play in the SLIAC. There would be no easing into the conference as the Phosted Spalding in a doubleheader the day after they returned from the sunshine state. Spalding was picked to win the SLIAC East Division, with GC right behind in second. The matchup of the top two teams in the east did not disappoint.
The afternoon did start out with some disappointment for Greenville, however, as they dropped the opening game 4-0. Solid starting pitching for Spalding stymied GC hitters as the Panthers were only able to come up with two hits. The lack of offense and a few fielding miscues amounted to the opening loss. The day was just getting started, though, and some late heroics made for a classic game two.
Greenville fell behind to start the second game 2-0 through six innings and into the seventh, and was struggling to find momentum in the batter’s box once again. It appeared the Spalding pitching staff had the Panthers’ numbers. They overlooked one number however. Sophomore Max Gabriel entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch hitter, and with one swing of the bat helped turn the tide of the entire game. Gabriel blasted a double and seized his opportunity at the plate to get the offense going. “Our comeback was started when Max Gabriel came off the bench and hit a huge pinch-hit double,” said pitching coach Andy Rincker.
The Panthers tied the game in the seventh inning on base hits by seniors Ryan Smith and Dalton McFarland, and that tie lasted until the ninth inning. With two outs, McFarland drew a walk to set up the heroics of Josh Wheeler. Wheeler belted a double that scored McFarland all the way from first base, notching the walk-off win and double-header split for the Panthers.
Not to be outdone by the crucial, big hits from the offense, the Panther pitching staff was firing on all cylinders to help get the win. Junior Ryan Strohm pitched a strong game with six solid innings while only allowing two runs on four hits. Jason Collingwood, Michael Wittmer, and Nick Bifano all came out of the bullpen to shut down the Spalding offense for the rest of the game.
While it may be early in the season, taking a split from Spalding was very important for the Panthers. “It’s always good to get off on the right foot in conference, taking a huge split from a team the caliber of Spalding, who was picked to win our side of the conference. It was a huge deal, and I think it could really boost our confidence going forward,” Rincker said.
Greenville prepares for a busy upcoming week, as they travel to Illinois College on Wednesday and Iowa Wesleyan on Friday the 27th for double-headers, before returning home to take on Washington University in a double-header on Saturday the 28th.