FRANKLIN, Ind. – The top-seeded Franklin College baseball team had the opportunity to clinch a spot in the finals of the 2018 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) on Friday (May 11) afternoon with a win over third-seeded Rose-Hulman in the tournament's winner's bracket.
The Grizzlies (37-3) and Engineers (20-22) traded leads, ties and momentum shifts all afternoon. Down by a pair of runs in the seventh inning, the host institution rallied for 11 runs over the final three innings to earn a 13-9 win and advance to the championship-clinching game on Saturday (May 12) afternoon at John P. McDowell Field.
Ryan Bixler, Frank Podkul and Brandt Pawley all finished the day with three hits for Franklin with Podkul and Pawley bringing in three runs each. Podkul belted a pair of solo home runs late while Bixler launched a solo shot of his own to start a six-run, seventh-inning rally.
The Grizzlies got the early jump on the Engineers, opening the scoring with a sacrifice fly from Podkul in the top of the first inning. Their lead was short-lived, as the Engineers evened things up in the bottom of the second with a bases loaded walk.
The game remained tied until the top of the fifth, when Sam Claycamp put the Grizzlies on top with another sacrifice fly. But the Engineers would rally to take their first lead of the game with three runs in the sixth, taking a 4-2 lead into the final third of the game.
With just nine outs left to work with the Franklin bats responded in a big way in the seventh. Bixler led off the inning with a home run to cut the Rose-Hulman lead in half and four batters later, Jackson Freed evened things up at 4-4 with a run-scoring single. Jarrod Smith put the Grizzlies in front later in the frame with a sac fly, one batter before Pawley brought home two with a triple into the right field corner.
Sam Claycamp capped the seventh-inning rally with a bases loaded walk to make it 8-4 Franklin, but the Engineers refuse to go away, plating three runs in their half of the inning to cut the deficit to 8-7 with two innings to play.
Podkul restored the two-run lead with a towering home run on the first pitch of the eighth inning. Later in the frame, Pawley brought home his third run of the day with a single and Ryan Erlandson followed with a two-run double off the top of the right center field wall, stretching the lead to 12-7.
Rose got back within three with a two-out, two-run triple in the eighth, but Podkul would add the final insurance run in the ninth with a long home run to straight away center field, giving him an NCAA-leading 16 on the year. Mitchell Caster worked a perfect ninth inning to shut the door on the Engineers and put Franklin one win away from their first conference tournament championship.
Jordan Clark took the ball to start the game for Franklin, allowing four runs on eight hits with three walks and five strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings. Nate Stonebraker (4-1) picked up the win, tossing 1 1/3 innings in relief.
Franklin will play with the conference championship on the line on Saturday afternoon at McDowell Field. The Grizzlies will face the winner of Saturday morning's elimination game between Rose-Hulman and Anderson. The championship game is set to begin at approximately 12:30 p.m.