Tied for first: Pioneers sweep JCU, tie Berg for OAC top spot

Marietta College celebrated their 16th annual Community Day in grand fashion Saturday afternoon as it swept a doubleheader from John Carroll to pull even with Heidelberg for first place in the Ohio Athletic Conference.

The Pioneers scored a 7-6 victory in the opener and then held on for a 6-4 victory in the nightcap.

“These are two huge wins for us and the fact that they come on Community Day with the great support from the town and really the entire mid-Ohio Valley makes it that much more enjoyable,” said Marietta College head coach Brian Brewer.

With a strong wind blowing out to right center field for both games presenting a huge challenge for each pitcher who took his turn on the mound at Don Schaly Stadium, no lead would be safe for either team.

Marietta College elected to start right hander Christian Herstine in the opener and the Blue Streaks (18-13, 10-6) touched up the Pioneer sophomore for a single run in the top of the second on a David Crowley run-scoring single to take a 1-0 lead.

The Etta Express evened things up in the last of the third on an RBI triple off the bat of Christian Demko before scoring three times in the fourth inning to take a 4-1 lead.

Left fielder Josh Ungerbuehler got the fourth started with a long triple off the fence in right center field and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch by John Carroll starter Aaron Lapaglia.

Kevin Johnston continued the inning by drawing a walk and a two-base hit by Tyler Packanik and a single by Tim McCoy made it 4-1.

Marietta College scored twice more in the last of the sixth on a single by designated hitter Ryan Annett and another RBI double by Packanik, one of three doubles by the Pioneer second baseman in the opener.

Packanik moved to third on another McCoy single before scoring on a safety squeeze by Zach Bukiewicz after a big collision at home plate with Blue Streak catcher Chet Lauer.

MC increased its lead to 7-1 in the last of the seventh on an RBI single by pinch hitter Chris Winpigler and with Herstine holding John Carroll scoreless after their second inning run, it appeared the Pios would cruise to an easy win.

That would not be the case however as the Blue Streak chased Herstine by scoring a pair of runs on three base hits and a walk in the eighth to pull with in four runs and then mounted a challenge off of Marietta College reliever Mike Fulton in the final inning.

After Fulton retired Crowley on a ground out to first to open the inning, the next four JCU hitters reached base bringing the number three and four hitters to the plate representing the go-ahead runs.

Fulton rose to the occasion as he got Lauer to bounce out to Ryan Hanahan at third base and then wrapped things up by getting Jimmy Spagna to fly out to deep left center field to end the game.

The second game took on a similar theme as the opener as once again the Pioneers held a four-run lead heading into the final inning only to watch John Carroll mount a threat.

The Blue Streaks scored first in the nightcap when Lauer launched a two-run homer over the fence in right center off of Pioneer ace Jason Byers to take a 2-0 lead.

Marietta College evened things up in the last of the fourth off of Blue Streak game two starter Brandon Maddern when Hanahan doubled and moved to third when Ungerbuehler laid down a perfect bunt and beat the throw at first for a single.

Winpigler delivered the first run when he reached first on a John Carroll error and Clint Roche followed with a sacrifice fly to tie things up at 2-2.

Run scoring singles by Mitch Geers and Roche gave the Etta Express the lead in the last of the fifth before Geers and Winpigler played long ball to right center in the seventh to make it a 6-2 ballgame.

“The wind was definitely blowing out and I think we made the most of the opportunities there,” said Brewer of seventh inning home runs. “I thought we were very sound offensively for most of the day.”

With a four-run lead to work with, Byers settled into quite a groove as the sophomore lefty retired 16 John Carroll hitters in a row at one point.

“My curveball and slider weren’t working that well today,” said Byers, who improved to a perfect 8-0 on the season with the win. “I knew for us to get the win I had to throw strikes and keep the ball down and I was able to do that with the fastball.”

Byers took to the mound looking to finish what he started in the ninth inning but was greeted by back-to-back doubles off the bats of Spagna and Tyler Gentile to cut the lead to three.

One out later shortstop Mark Huddle singled to score Gentile and bring pinch hitter Jake Schoch to the plate representing the tying run.

Brewer elected to bring on Monroe Central graduate Kordell Antill to try and save the game and the freshman right hander proved quite efficient.

Schoch grounded the very first pitch right delivered by Antill to Geers at first who stepped on the bag and fired a strike to Demko who tagged out Huddle to end the game.

“He’s a ground ball guy and we were obviously looking for a ground ball there,” said Brewer of Antill, who notched his second save of the season. “The second half of the season he has come into some pretty big situations and done a good job for us.”

The Pioneer sweep, combined with Heidelberg splitting a doubleheader against Otterbein University, moved Marietta College (25-11, 13-3) back into a first-place tie in the OAC with one week to play in the regular season.

MC is scheduled to play a twinbill at Wilmington College at 1 p.m. Saturday.