After dropping their first three contests of the season, the Raven baseball team notched their first win of 2017 under their belt. AU defeated the Heidelberg Student Princes 12-11 in an instant classic, back-and-forth affair.
The first three losses have been plagued by errors and nervous mistakes typical of a young team getting acclimated to the college level. Junior shortstop Nick Butcher touched on the differences between this year’s team and those previous. “In the previous years, we’ve had a predominantly upperclassmen roster,” he said. “This year we’ve had to keep the young guys focused on the process rather than the wins and losses.”
“They are all extremely talented and have finally settled down and begun playing with more confidence. That was a big reason we were able to finish with a win on Saturday.”
Trailing 11-9 entering the top of the ninth inning, the Ravens showed confidence and muster, plating three runs in a furious rally to pick up the win. A walk and two pinch-hit singles loaded the bases. After AU scored one run on a Heidelberg error, Thomas Parker tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Butcher capped his strong performance with a sacrifice fly to bring home the game-winning run.
The offense spurred the team on to victory. The Ravens picked up 11 hits as a team, drew six walks and two hit batters, stole three bases and picked up RBIs on 10 of their 11 runs scored. Austin Cain had a huge day at the dish, picking up three hits in four at-bats, driving in three runs and scoring twice. He also drew the walk that kicked off the Ravens’ ninth-inning rally.
“During the week we emphasized hitting fastballs early in the count,” explained Cain. “We wanted to be more aggressive in early counts and we were able to do so on Saturday.”
Butcher and Branton Sanders each had two hits in four at-bats. Butcher scored three times and swiped one base. Sanders drove in three runs.
John Becker, the starter for the Ravens’ season opener, came out of the bullpen in the bottom of the seventh and picked up the win. Becker allowed four hits and one earned run in his two and one-third innings of work, striking out three Student Princes.
Becker was thrilled with the resilience showed by his teammates in their come from behind victory. “We have been steadily getting better,” he said, “and everything finally came together Saturday. It would have been easy to lay down and accept the loss, but our guys answered the bell in the ninth.”
Butcher echoed these sentiments, expressing his pleasure in seeing many of the younger players step up at a time when most needed.
The Ravens hit the road Friday to take on Central College, before playing Spalding and Kalamazoo in a Saturday doubleheader. Butcher explained that the team “needs to keep up our energy and focus during practice” heading into the weekend contests in order to leave victorious.
Playing against many tough opponents both now and on the Florida trip enables the team to work out early season kinks. Many of the more inexperienced players are also picking up invaluable in-game repetitions.
Becker believes the early schedule will pay off when conference play rolls around. “Playing these games gives us a huge advantage,” he said. “By the time we get to conference, we will have played 13 games. Playing against some of the top teams in the region shows that we can compete with anyone.”
The Ravens will have their chance to compete for a conference crown come March 24, when the team travels to Bluffton to kick off conference competition.
“Our goal is to win a conference championship,” Becker continued. “Playing top caliber teams to start the year is going to help us reach our goal.”