Huntington, Ind. - Looking to defend their conference tournament title, the Forester baseball team didn’t allow their fourth-seeded ranking to stand in the way as they rolled through the tourney at Indiana Wesleyan's Wildcat Field knocking off No. 2 seeded Marian University in the championship game on Saturday night to claim the title for the second consecutive year.
Huntington got off to a great start with a 4-1 upset over the No. 3 seed Spring Arbor University on Wednesday afternoon. Mitch Bowers willed the Foresters a win, hurling a complete-game eight-hitter and limiting the Cougars to one run and four walks while striking out seven to up his season record to 7-4. He had plenty of help from his teammates at the plate as they collected eight hits and drew ten base-on-balls on their way to a first round win.
Marc Bowers fueled the Foresters’ offense with two RBI-hits in the second and fifth innings to give HU a 2-0 advantage. The Cougars cut that lead in half with a run in the sixth but the Foresters added two insurance runs in the eight behind Jamon Hammel’s run-scoring double and a wild pitch to put the game away. Hammel and Marc Bowers each finished with a pair of hits to pace the Foresters offensively.
With the top three seeds all losing in first round action, the Foresters went on to hand 5th-seeded Bethel College a 12-7 loss on Thursday. A combination of solid pitching and the Foresters’ hot hitting eventually wore down a pesky Pilot squad.
With the score knotted 5-5 headed into the sixth, Bethel pieced together a two-run inning to take their last lead of the night at 7-5. The Foresters went to work in the eighth when Adam Christner doubled in two runs and then came around to score on a base poke by Blake Ayers, his third of the game, to edge HU on top 8-7.
The Foresters put the game away in the ninth thanks to timely hitting and several Pilot miscues to cruise to the 12-7 victory. The Foresters outhit Bethel 15-7 with Ayers, Christner and Justin Branock leading the way with three hits apiece. Ayers also scored a run and drove in four more while Christner came around to score three times and logged two RBI.
Ethan Tribolet notched his fifth win of the season. In 5.1 innings of work he gave up six hits, seven runs and five walks in 5.1 innings of work while striking out six. Brian Kirschbaum held the Pilots hitless over the final 3.2 innings surrendering only one walk while fanning seven.
Just hours later, the Foresters faced the 6th-seeded Cougars of Saint Francis and turned in a similar performance, beating their neighbor to the northeast 12-7. Tyler Palmer had a great showing on the mound to pick the win. In 5.2 innings of work, he gave up three runs on three hits and five walks while striking out one. After a handful of others took the hill, Kirschbaum pitched the final 1.1 innings of hitless relief to earn his third save of the season.
Offensively the Foresters pounded out 19 hits in 41 at bats and took advantage of seven Cougar errors to plate double digit runs for the second consecutive game. In a game they never trailed, the Foresters blew the game wide open in the fourth by sending 11 batters to the plate and scoring seven times highlighted by Branock’s two-run blast over the left field fence to go up 9-1. While the Cougars turned up the heat by outscoring HU 6-3 over the final five innings, it was too little too late as the Foresters held on for the win to advance to the championship round. Jordan Klopfenstein went a perfect 5-for-5 from the plate, scored a run and drove in one more to pace HU. Branock and Ayers finished with three hits and two RBI apiece.
After rattling off three straight wins to earn a berth to the championship game, the Foresters met their match on Friday night as the No. 2 seed Marian University outlasted HU 7-6 to force a two-game championship round.
An RBI-single by Ayers in the top of the third opened the game’s scoring to give HU the 1-0 lead but the Knights responded with three in their half of the frame to steal the lead at 3-1. The Foresters used the next three innings to regain the lead at 5-3 thanks in part to Christner and Branock’s run-scoring base pokes and Marc Bowers’ sacrifice fly. But it was short-lived as the Knights pieced together three hits and took advantage of two Forester errors in the sixth to plate three runs and reclaim the lead.
The Foresters once again responded by way of a Christner RBI-single in the seventh to knot the score at 6-6. Neither team was able to piece together a game-winning rally in their final two at-bats forcing the game into extra innings. The Knights finally broke through in the bottom of the tenth with a walk-off single by freshman Brody Edgerly to extend the tourney one more game.
After Cody Walters got the start for HU giving up one run on one hit and one walk in 2.1 innings, Xyan Adkisson pitched 6.1 innings of relief surrendering ten hits, five runs, three earned, and two walks while striking out three before Kirschbaum took the loss as he gave up the run in the bottom of the tenth.
The Foresters’ first two batters led HU at the plate. Christner finished with four hits, two RBI and a run scored while Ayers went 3-for-6, scored a run and drove in one more. Schultz, Branock, Josh Lanphier and Klopfenstein added two hits apiece.
After being swept by the Cougars in regular season and dropping a 7-6 decision to them Friday night, the Foresters finally avenged these losses when it mattered most with a 3-1 win Saturday night to bring home the conference tournament championship for the second consecutive year.
After rain pushed back the start time to 5:15 pm, the two teams were able to squeeze in 3.5 innings before storms hit Marion, delaying the game three more hours before play resumed at 10:00 pm.
MU opened up the scoring with a run in the third but ace Mitch Bowers made sure it was their last as he notched his second complete-game win of the tourney. In nine innings of work, he gave up four hits, one run and two walks while fanning eight.
After scattering two hits through the first five innings, the Foresters finally did all of its damage in the bottom of the sixth. Klopfenstein sparked the rally with a bunt single. He swiped second and advanced to third on a wild throw. After Eric Schultz worked a walk and Ayers, who is riding a ten-game hit streak, singled to left-center to tie the game at 1-1.
Christner loaded the based with a bunt hit and Branock lifted a sacrifice fly to nose HU in front. Hammel gave HU some breathing with a run-scoring single to push the lead to 3-1 as the Foresters held off the Knights for the win and the title. It was a complete team effort as Huntington got six hits from six different players.
With this win, the Foresters (22-23) receive the league's automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round on May 12-16. HU received one of the fifth seeds and will play 4th-seeded William Woods (Mo.) on Thursday at 11:00 a.m. at Auburn University at Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama.