WINCHESTER, Va. – Senior Daniel Freshley is in his second year of blogging about the baseball team. This week, with a couple of days to reflect back on the program's first-ever ODAC Championship, Daniel takes time out of his academic schedule to bring us an inside look at championship weekend.
What an awesome past 10 days. We have had some time to reflect on our accomplishments thus far this season and now look forward to the exciting baseball ahead. After returning from Lynchburg late Sunday evening, we took the day off Monday (with the exception of the pitchers – it almost seems they never have a day off) and got back to work on Tuesday to preparing for the NCAA Regionals next week.
As we finish up the semester, this week makes for a difficult week in the life of a college athlete. We know there is a lot of work we need to do this week to prepare to play baseball at our highest level, but with this week is also exam week and we know our priority needs to be in the classroom until finals are complete.
It goes without saying that we are all looking forward to tomorrow for the official end to the semester and for the seniors and two juniors (in terms of baseball eligibility), graduation.
Reflecting back to the conference tournament, I think it is safe to say that I, as well as probably everyone else at the tournament, never experienced a more stressful, dramatic, and all-around amazing weekend of baseball. Going into the weekend, we had only one walk-off win all season (against Lynchburg College in our last weekend of conference play) and then had two walk-offs on Friday, April 24th alone!
Friday was very interesting day considering we have never played a double header in that manner. Due to the incoming weather, we took to the field for the first game at 1:30 p.m. against Bridgewater, won thanks to a complete game performance on the mound from Michael Scimanico and the J.J. McDaniel walk-off single in the ninth. We then returned to the hotel to relax for several hours before returning to City Stadium for our 8:30 p.m. match up against R-MC.
After winning both games, we were again in the drivers seat heading into championship Sunday. Because of the schedule change, we also had the day off Saturday. We spent the day by attending the Virginia Wesleyan/RMC game in the morning before heading over to Lynchburg College for a light practice.
We came out Sunday morning fired up and ready to go. Although the first game didn't play out the way we would have liked, our determination (and quite frankly the strong desire to replay last year's 0-2 Championship Sunday) as well as our focus was undeniable and we came through victorious in the second game.
Starter Darrell Thompson gave us an outstanding performance on the mound, going the distance, throwing just 102 pitches, and winning tournament MVP. In warming Darrell up in the bullpen before game two, I actually commented to several teammates about how I would hate to face him today and that he had the look of a demon in his eyes. I knew as he threw each pitch in the bullpen that he was going to give us a great outing, and all the rest of us needed to do was get him some runs. Sure enough we did, and Darrell wouldn't be denied.
Our pitching plan for the second game was also very unlike any other approach Coach Anderson has taken all season. Typically we try to establish the fastball/change up early while holding off on the breaking ball as much as we can. However, with Darrell coming off of two-days rest, and respecting the fastball hitting abilities of the Wesleyan lineup, we pitched 'backwards'. Coach A began calling curveballs in the first inning, and from that point forward I knew this was going to be a fun game to catch. As Coach phrased it, "we finessed early and challenged late."
Darrell continued to pound fastball after fastball inside and outside in the last few innings, challenging their bats and wanting them to earn every hit. This off-balance hitting approach paid off and when Darrell struck out the last hitter of the game, we had our third dog-pile of the weekend.
Contrary to what the photos suggest, I did not body slam Darrell into the ground but rather caught him, fell to my knees, and laid him down gently before the rest of the team began to pile on top. Now let me tell you, dog-piles are a lot of fun; they have to be because they mean something great just happened. But for the third time in three days, I was at the bottom of the pile enjoying the weight of the rest of the team on top of me. I would be fooling you if I didn't say I at least attempted to holler for everyone to get off, soon after each pile began. But hey, like I said, they're always for a good reason, and I sure won't shy away from another.
Throughout the weekend we also made some quite interesting friends. There was one particular hotel worker that became a huge hit with the team. Every morning she was in the lobby assisting with breakfast, cracking jokes, even humorously flirting with players and coaches. Her attitude everyday and her energetic personality seemed to carry over to the guys. We played the game loose, with passion and energy, and even when we got down, as we did in all but our opening game, we were able to pull together as a team and find a way to get it done. Our hotel friend even showed up to game two of the championship with a Shenandoah hat on (thanks to one of the parents) and was cheering us on. She fit right in with our very loud and passionate fans that, as always, travel better than any other team in the conference.
We expect nothing but the same starting May 13th as we begin regional play. We know we have a lot of work and preparation that needed to take place in the days leading up to the start of regionals, but not matter where we play (possibilities include the South Regional in Demorest, Georgia (where we went last year), Mid-Atlantic Regional in York, Pennsylvania; Mideast Regional in Washington, Pennsylvania and the New York Regional in Auburn, New York. We know our fans will be there in full force supporting us wholeheartedly. We look forward to a lot of baseball ahead, and thank everyone for their continued support for Shenandoah University Baseball.