FRANKLIN, Ind. – When the schedule for the 2018 season was released, the Franklin College baseball team was champing at the bit for a pair of games at home against defending Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) champion Earlham College.
On Saturday (Apr. 21) afternoon, the Grizzlies (26-2, 11-1 HCAC) got their crack at the Quakers (23-9, 7-5 HCAC) in a showdown of two 20-win teams. When the dust settled, the Grizzlies handed their conference foe a pair of lopsided defeats with Franklin taking game one 9-1 and game two 13-2.
Ryan Erlandson, Ryan Bixler and Nick Wright all had four hits on the day with Erlandson and Bixler finishing with four RBI each. All but one Franklin starter recorded a hit on Saturday afternoon, with the team punishing Earlham pitching for 28 hits on the day.
Game One: Franklin 9 – Earlham 1
The Quakers jumped out to an early lead, using a lead-off walk, two stolen bases and a single from Isaiah Shake to plate the opening run of the game. That proved to be all the offense Earlham would generate in the opener and in the third, the Grizzlies would take the lead for good.
Bixler got the Grizzlies on the board with an RBI single and advance to third on a two-base error on the same play. Three pitches later, the Grizzlies had the lead when Bixler scurried home on a passed ball to make it 2-1. One inning later, the Grizzlies padded their lead with a two-out RBI single from Jarrod Smith, scoring Frank Podkul.
Earlham squandered a pair of scoring chances, leaving two runners on in both the fourth and sixth innings. The Grizzlies would make the Quakers pay in the sixth, plating six runs that put game one out of reach.
A throwing error on a bunt allowed Podkul and Nick Wright to score to make it 5-1. With two outs in the inning, Erlandson plated a pair with a single that made it 7-1 and forced the Quakers to go to the bullpen. After a walk to Bixler, Sam Claycamp and Wright came through with back-to-back RBI singles to cap the scoring.
Senior Christian Sullivan (6-0) was dominant opposite reigning HCAC Pitcher of the Year Walter Talcott. Sullivan allowed five hits, walked three and punched out 10 in a complete game effort, matching his season-high strikeout total.
Game Two: Franklin 13 – Earlham 2
The Grizzlies escaped trouble in the top of the first, as starter Aaron Leming stranded the bases full of Quakers. After a scoreless first trip to the plate, the Grizzlies would break the game wide open in their half of the second.
Smith got the Grizzlies on the board with a run-scoring single to right center and was followed by a two-run single off the bat of Brandt Pawley. Erlandson would follow with a sacrifice fly before Bixler launched a two-run shot that easily cleared the left field wall. Wright capped the inning with an RBI single, chasing Earlham starter Joey Gerbus and giving Franklin a 7-0 lead.
Franklin padded their lead in the fifth with an Erlandson RBI single and Smith scoring on a throwing error to make it 9-1. The Grizzlies put the finishing touches on the sweep in the eighth with RBI hits from Bixler, Wright and Alex Mis.
Nate Stonebraker (2-0) took over for the Grizzlies in the third and tossed four innings of two-hit ball in relief to earn the win. Jordan Clark allowed one hit and struck out six over the final three innings to earn his sixth save of the year.
The Grizzlies will take a break from conference play on Sunday (Apr. 22), when they welcome Thomas More College to John P. McDowell Field for a pair of non-conference games. First pitch is set for 1:00 p.m.