To a Marietta College baseball player, being recognized now at this stage of the season as No. 1 in NCAA Division III is naturally nice, but it's something that the team doesn't particularly dwell on.
"I don't think about it at all," said MC's Tim Saunders after going 3-for-3 to help lead the Pioneers to a 6-0 blanking of Otterbein University in Game 1 of Saturday's Ohio Athletic Conference doubleheader at Don Schaly Stadium. One of the junior shortstop's knocks was a two-run, first-inning triple.
"We've just got to keep doing what we're doing whether we're No. 1 or No. 24," continued Saunders. "It doesn't matter, because we're going to play with the same intensity every day."
Saunders also had three hits in the nightcap as the Etta Express (29-3 overall, 13-1 OAC) rolled to a 6-1 triumph.
"It's just about being calm up there at the plate," Saunders said. "And, it's a lot of work."
On Sunday, Marietta (29-3 overall, 13-1 OAC) was scheduled to host John Carroll University in another twinbill but it was postponed because of rain. The Pioneers and Blue Streaks (16-15, 9-5 OAC), who were originally slated to play April 23, will now attempt to take the field at Don Schaly Stadium at 4 p.m. today.
The Pioneers can clinch the regular season championship with a sweep and at least a share of the title with a split.
MC closes out OAC regular season play Friday in a twinbill at Wilmington (9-18, 4-10) while second place Heidelberg (28-8. 12-4) has only two league games left, a home doubleheader Saturday against Mount Union (15-16, 9-5).
"Yes, we try not to even think about it (being No. 1)," said MC sophomore third baseman Evan Brockmeier. "If we accomplish what we want to do, which in the end is the national championship, that's going to come along right with it. It's just one step at a time."
Brockmeier, who starred as a prep baseball and basketball player at Marietta High, did his part Saturday, getting two singles and an RBI in the opener. Going into the twinbill, he was batting a team third-best .361.
"Really, I'm just doing anything that I can to fill in, to help the team doing the little things, playing the bunt game, and just contribute the best I can," Brockmeier said.
Marietta College head coach Brian Brewer said it best after the doubleheader sweep Saturday, "It's a total team thing. We're playing winning baseball right now. We're moving runners. We're taking bases, and that's what we've got to continue to do to be good."
The neat thing about the top-ranked Pioneers is they're not relying on any one individual to carry them. It really is "a total team thing."
"When you're surrounded with talent, there's never one guy that has to do it all by himself," Brockmeier said. "If one guy doesn't get it done, the next guy behind him is sure going to pick him up. That's the best part of this club."
Then, there's the Marietta College pitching staff, which could be second to none in the nation. On Saturday, the Pioneers featured four of them - undefeated Brian Gasser (9-0) - who hurled a four-hit, complete game shutout in the opener - Austin Blaski (7-2), Mark Williams (4-1), and closer Kyle Lindquist (9 saves). Against Otterbein, they combined to allow only one run in 16 innings.
"We've got a lot of good arms on this ballclub," Saunders said. "And, they work hard every day, our pitchers do."
Before Saturday, the Pioneers hadn't played a game due to the inclement weather since beating La Roche, 4-1, at Don Schaly Stadium on April 21. Needless to say, there was some concern among the coaches and the pitchers.
"Two weeks of not being on the mound, you never want to do that," Gasser said. "I was able to throw this week off the mound a little bit in a scrimmage we had."
Against Otterbein, Gasser had to work himself out of jams in both the first and second innings. He even walked a couple of Cardinals in the second, which really angered him.
"I think I was rushing my delivery a little bit, and that was what was causing my inaccuracy," Gasser said. "After the second inning, I slowed down and relaxed a little bit, and it worked out."
Right now, the No. 1 Pioneers appear to be clicking on all cylinders in every phase of the game.
And, as the season progresses in the month of May, it's going to be awfully difficult for them to be dislodged from the top spot in the national poll by some other team.
The Etta Express is that good.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org