Wooster Tops Two Nationally-Ranked Foes, Shuts Out Colby to Head North with 10-1 Record

Jake Fling
Michael Houdek

Senior Michael Houdek tossed a four-hit shutout while striking out 10 against Colby College, and The College of Wooster baseball team – up to eighth in this week's D3baseball.com/National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association top 25 poll – won a pair of games against nationally-ranked opponents while going 5-0 over the second-half of its annual Florida trip. The Fighting Scots now head home with a 10-1 record on the season.

Capping Wooster's trip was an 11-8 win against No. 13 Johns Hopkins University on Friday morning.

Wooster overcame a wild first inning that saw the two teams combine to score seven runs despite only one hit in each half of the inning. The Scots took control during a three-run fifth inning, and really broke the game wide open with three insurance runs in the eighth that made it 11-5 before warding off a ninth-inning rally by the Blue Jays.

Junior Drew Tornow plated the go-ahead run in the fifth with a bases-loaded RBI fielder's choice that made it 6-5. Earlier in the inning senior Jamie Lackner and sophomore Garrett Crum plated two runs with back-to-back singles.

Then, in the sixth inning, junior Jake Fling punched one of his two doubles on the morning over the fence in right, pushing sophomore Chandler Dippman - who reached on a leadoff single - to third in the process. Next, first-year Nick Strausbaugh made it a two-run game at 7-5 with a RBI groundout prior to sophomore Michael Wielansky's RBI single up the middle.

In the eighth frame, Strausbaugh, Lackner, and pinch-hitter Dan Harwood contributed RBI singles, while a one-out two-bagger from Fling stood out as the table-setting hit in the frame.

Then in the ninth, senior Michael Whitaker came out of the bullpen for his 80th career relief appearance, moving the right-hander into the top-20 all-time in Div. III in that category.

Of note, the game featured two legends of Div. III baseball leading their respective programs as Wooster's Tim Pettorini and Johns Hopkins' Bob Babb rank first and fourth among active Div. III coaches in wins with 1,147 and 1,082. In terms of recent series history, the two teams have now met three times in the last two seasons, including in last year's NCAA Div. III Mideast Regional opener, a game won by the Scots 8-5.

A day prior to Wooster's impressive win over Johns Hopkins, Houdek turned in the top pitching performance of the week. The senior's 10 strikeouts during a 4-0 win over Colby marked a career high, while the left-hander is the first Wooster pitcher to record a double-digit strikeout game since Keenan White fanned 14 Oberlin College batters on April 20, 2013. In Thursday's game, Houdek recorded at least one strikeout in eight innings, including two in the first and fourth frames. Of note, the win marked Houdek's (3-1) 22nd for his career, moving him into a tie for fourth among active Div. III baseball student-athletes.

Offensively, all four of Wooster's runs came in the third inning against Colby. Fling staked Wooster to a 2-0 lead with an opposite-field, two-run single before later coming home to score on a wild pitch that made it 3-0. Later in the inning, Wielansky drove in senior Jake Kail with his fourth triple of the season. Of note, the triple marked Wielansky's ninth of his career, and the shortstop needed just 59 career games to reach Wooster's top-10 list in that stat.

For the Colby game, Fling paced Wooster's offense with a 4-for-5 afternoon, becoming the second Scot to log a four-hit game on the season in the process.

Earlier in the week, Wooster topped North Central College twice, including a 3-1 win on Monday while the Cardinals were still ranked in the D3baseball.com/NCBWA top 25.

Runs were at a premium in Monday's game, and in fact, North Central outhit Wooster 9-5, but the brilliant pitching performance of senior Tyler Schuch kept the Cardinals at bay. The southpaw worked around traffic on the bases in four of his scoreless 6 1/3 innings of work, including the fourth when he stranded a pair of runners on the corners.

Offensively, Fling went 3-for-5 in the game with two of hits coming on a one-out double in the fifth and a one-out base-knock in the seventh. Both of those hits paved the way for Strausbaugh, who knocked in Fling with an opposite-field single in the fifth before plating Tornow on a RBI fielder's choice in the seventh.

The Scots' third run came via a RBI single by Crum in the first inning that came on the heels of back-to-back walks by Wielansky and Lackner.

During Tuesday's 11-6 win over North Central, Wooster overcame a 5-2 deficit with a five-run fourth inning, and then scored four insurance runs in the eighth inning after North Central pulled within one during the 11-6 win.

Whitaker entered into a bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth inning, and while a North Central run did come in, he stranded a pair to preserve the lead before returning to the mound in the ninth to nail down the save with three strikeouts. Notable, the save marked Whitaker's 16th for his career, moving the righty into a tie with former standout Rich Danch for the second-most in program history.

Fling jump-started Wooster's offense in the fourth inning with a two-run single up the middle, and later came around to score the tying run on Lackner's sacrifice fly. Two batters later, Harwood made his first collegiate start a memorable one with a two-out, two-run, go-ahead single.

In the eighth inning, Fling again played a key role in setting up Wooster's offense with an opposite-field base knock. Sophomore Jeremy Fernando provided the biggest hit in the frame via a two-out, two-run single.

In the week's first game, Wooster, who averaged nine runs per game during the first half of the Florida trip, was at that total at the end of Sunday's second inning in an eventual 11-2 win over Amherst College.

Wooster broke the game wide open with a sixth-run second as the Scots cashed in on a RBI double from Dippman and a two-run double off Kail's bat. Notable, six of Wooster's first seven met to the plate in the second inning reached base safely.

On the rubber, junior Nanak Saran picked up his second win of the season. The righty allowed two runs on three hits for the second straight start, and he struck out five on the day.

Fling paced Wooster's offense for the week with a .522 average (12-for-23). Of note, the Scots' leadoff hitter scored a co-team-high eight runs while adding four RBI.

Other noteworthy offensive stats included Crum's right RBI, Wielansky's eight runs, and the Scots' collective .423 on-base percentage.

Defensively, Wooster's pitching staff held the opposition to a .231 average (39-for-169) on the week, while the Scots turned five double plays.

Next, Wooster hosts Muskingum University (6-7) at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29 at Art Murray Field.