After dropping a one game stand Wednesday at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Anderson looked to get back on track with a series victory in their conference home opener against Mount St. Joseph. The Lions, hoping to spoil AU’s home opener, entered the weekend series fourth in the HCAC standings.
While the Lions were unable to do so, Mother Nature did her best to mar the home opener, wreaking havoc on Don Brandon Field. After a downpour, puddles in both corners of the outfield and standing water across the infield, the Ravens were left with plenty of work to do in order to get the field playable.
Although many hours were spent on the field, it was not ready for Friday’s contest. Instead, both teams traveled to Grand Park for a 6 p.m. start time. Anderson was itching to play a game in front of their home fans, but were forced to wait another day to play at The Don.
“We knew the field was in pretty bad shape,” explained Nick Butcher. “If we were going to play Saturday’s games at home, a ton of work needed to be done.”
The abrupt relocation could have hurt a lesser teams psyche. Instead, Anderson responded with a brilliant effort.
“We were all pretty focused come game time,” said Butcher. “When our efforts to get the field ready didn’t work out, we weren’t going to come home without the win.”
The effort was led by freshman pitcher Tucker Waddups. After spotting the Lions four runs, two of which were unearned in the first, Waddups held the Lions scoreless over the next six innings. He struck out 16 batters, good for the fourth most in a single-game in AU history.
“We responded quickly to a 4-0 deficit,” said Coach Brantley. “We ended up scoring 14 runs. It was huge for Tucker to throw as well as he did, keep it in the zone and give us a chance to win.”
Waddups threw 109 pitches over his seven innings of working, allowing four runs, two earned, on two hits and two walks. His strong outing improved his record on the year to 3-0.
The Ravens finally were able to play at The Don on Saturday for a doubleheader. AU looked as if they would cruise to a dominant victory, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first, before giving up 10 unanswered runs. The Lions took game two of the series by a score of 18-7. The Lions pushed across 12 runs in the final three innings.
“That’s been the story of the year,” explained Coach Brantley. “We give up those one or two big innings where we walk a ton of guys and that’s debilitating for our offense. It doesn’t matter how good the offense is if you give up 18 runs.” Brantley called the defeat a “wake-up call.”
Wake up the Ravens did, responding with a 5-1 win in game three to take the series over Mount St. Joseph. Lane Hanzel earned the win for the Ravens, throwing five and two-thirds of an inning, only allowing two hits and no runs. Brian Page and John Becker threw three and one-third innings of relief, allowing only one run.
Hanzel actually threw in relief in game two, giving up a grand slam. He explained, “After giving up the grand slam, I just had to flush it. You have to keep a short memory and learn from mistakes without dwelling on them.
“As a senior, I wanted to give my team a chance to win in that third game. Knowing that our offense had been scoring a ton of runs and that our defense was rock solid made my job much easier.”
“That was the most complete and backwards outing we’ve had,” said Brantley. Hanzel typically works out of the bullpen while Page and Becker both are in the rotation as starters. “They’re upperclassmen who know what it takes to get it done,” Brantley continued. “That’s what we want right there.”
Becker too was thrilled with his teammates’ response to game two. “Game two was a tough one,” he said. “They were more ready than us to play, so hats off to them. But we got a huge start from Lane on game three. He kept us in the game and our hitters came alive.” He is excited about the momentum that can come from winning this series. “We now have some huge momentum going into a packed week. It gives us a shot to come out of next week back in the mix at the top of the conference.”
After spending so much of their early season on the road, the Ravens back half of the season includes many more dates at home. Playing in front of their home crowd can hopefully provide a boost heading into the back half of the season.
“It’s always great to play at The Don,” explained Becker. “There’s just something about that field that makes everything a little more exciting. It’s always nice to have the support of the home fans.”