FRANKLIN, Ind. – The Franklin College baseball team had a strong debut in the 2018 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) Tournament, defending their home turf at John P. McDowell Field with a 9-6 win over fourth-seeded Manchester in the final game of the opening day.
Sophomore Ryan Bixler belted a pair of solo home runs and scored three times as the driving force for the Franklin (36-3) offense. Nick Wright and Jackson Freed each drove in a pair of runs each and six different Grizzlies recorded multiple hits against the Spartans' (20-21) pitching staff.
Feeding off their win in the morning session, the Spartans came out swinging in their first trip to the plate against FC ace Christian Sullivan. Manchester plated a pair of runs in the first, but Franklin would get both those runs back in their first trip to the plate on an opposite-field home run from Bixler and a sac fly from Freed.
The guests plated two more runs in their half of the fourth, but Franklin would battle right back with a four-run, two-out rally. Brandt Pawley brought a run home with a bunt single, and the Grizzlies drew even after an unearned run. With the bags full, Wright made the Spartans pay for giving them an extra out with a two-run single to make it a 6-4 game.
But the feisty Spartan offense would knot things up in the sixth, getting a sacrifice fly and plating an unearned run on a two-out error. But just as they had done twice earlier in the game, Franklin would answer immediately, getting a lead-off home run from Bixler and a run-scoring single from Freed in their half of the sixth.
Jarrod Smith added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, singling home Freed to close out the scoring.
Sullivan worked 5 2/3 innings for the Grizzlies, allowing three earned runs while walking three and striking out five. Mitchell Caster (4-1) was brilliant out of the bullpen for Franklin, striking out three batters over the final 3 1/3 innings to pick up the win. The Greenwood, Ind.-native did not allow a runner to reach and needed just 38 pitches to make the lead stick.
Franklin will move to the winner's bracket on Friday (May 11), taking on third-seeded Rose-Hulman in a battle of the two unbeaten teams left in the tournament. The Engineers advanced with a thrilling 7-4 10-inning win over second-seeded Anderson in the second game on Thursday. First pitch from John P. McDowell Field is set for approximately 12:30 p.m.