MARIETTA, Ohio - When the stakes were the highest they had been all season, the Adrian College coaching staff turned to freshman Eric Schmidt to take the ball in the third game for the baseball team at the 2012 NCAA Division III Mideast Region. Schmidt took it from there and ran with it as he improved to 9-0 this season with a fantastic start in the Bulldogs' 3-2 win over La Roche College (Pa.) in an elimination contest on Friday afternoon.
Schmidt went 7.2 innings and threw just 89 pitches in doing so as Adrian set a single-season school record for wins improving to 37-9 overall in 2012. Schmidt went a stretch where he retired 15-of-16 batters between the third and seventh innings. He finished allowing six hits (one double) and two earned runs which both came in the eighth inning. He walked just one man in the first and struck out a batter in the fifth.
"Eric did a tremendous job for us today," said head coach Craig Rainey. "We wanted La Roche to swing the bat early in the count and told Eric to pitch to contact and let our fielders do the rest. He got ahead early and mixed his pitch speeds very well this afternoon."
Schmidt was relieved with two outs in the top of the eighth by junior Lucas Willitzer. The team's closer did just that as he got Brian Tougher to bounce back to the mound with the tying run at first to end the inning. Willitzer threw to just three batters in the ninth and struck out two. He allowed a one-out walk to Casey Zimmerman but catcher Anthony Sergi tossed him out at second trying to steal for the second out. Willitizer got Dan Burns looking for the third strike to end the contest for his third save of the season. He lowered his season ERA to 0.55 in 16.1 innings.
"I wanted to treat this like any other game," said Schmidt. "I figured that they (La Roche) would get to me eventually but Lucas was there to have my back."
Sergi filled in for starting catcher Jamey Sackett and proved to be a hero for the Bulldogs. He threw out a base stealer in the eighth and ninth innings and went 2-for-3 at the plate with a run scored and a walk. He also had four assists in the field. Sophomore Mitch Stefanski got Adrian on the board to leadoff the second inning with his third home run of the season. The blast to right center field was the third hit of the game for Adrian.
The Bulldogs added two more runs in the seventh inning which were charged to La Roche's starter Reed Tomlinson. Sophomore R.J. Rios hit a soft liner over the head of Tomlinson to leadoff the inning and the pitcher picked the ball off the ground and wheeled to throw Rios out at first. The ball got away and Rios was standing on second with a hit and error. Sergi then laid down a beautiful bunt down the third base line which Tomlinson gloved but could not make a play. Senior Mike Herzog then lifted a sacrifice fly to center deep enough for Rios to score and Sergi to move to second with one out. Junior Cody Meyer grounded out to shortstop moving Sergi to third and then sophomore Sam Fischer snapped out of a mini-slump with a run-scoring double to the wall in left center to give Adrian a 3-0 lead.
The RedHawks got two runs in the eighth off Schmidt. Mitchell Meyers led off with a single to right center and Adam Zimmerman followed with a double to center over the head of Fischer. With runners at second and third and no outs, Dustin Lalle bunted to first and allowed Meyers to score and Zimmerman to move to third. Shane Healey sharply singled through the left side allowing Zimmerman to score and cut the lead to 3-2. Healey was caught stealing at second on a close play for the second out and Sean Lubin singled to center as Schmidt gave way to Willitzer.
The Bulldogs cranked out double digit hits for the fifth straight game and 27th time this season. Senior Kyle Strawn ended 2-for-4 and is hitting .429 (6-for-14) during the regional. Junior Andrew DeLuca went 2-for-3 in the game and is now 6-for-13 (.462) during the regional. Adrian is batting .355 through three games.
Adrian will now face #1 seed and #1 nationally ranked Marietta College on their home field of Don Schaly Stadium tonight at 8:00 PM. Adrian is 1-4 all-time against the 'Etta Express including an 0-1 record in NCAA regional action.