For anyone who read the recap on the DWU athletics site about yesterday's baseball doubleheader (CLICK HERE), you already know about the fascinating win in game one win, in which DWU turned a 5-0 deficit into a 6-5 walk-off win.
If the Tigers go on to win the GPAC (currently a half-game behind Mount Marty in the standings) I think they'll point to this win as the one where they really started to put it all together. The way they played in the final innings and the resillience they showed in coming back was impressive to say the least.
There were several stars in that win, but obviously the discussion has to start with Casey Solem. A GPAC Gold Glove winner a year ago, Solem misplayed a bases-loaded, two-out fly to center that resulted in three runs and the 5-0 hole for the Tigers. So what did the DWU star do to atone? Only drill an RBI double to help spark the comeback, and then deliver the game-winning, walk-off hit with two-on and two-out in the bottom of the seventh. In baseball, players make mistakes, but you can learn a lot about a player from how they respond to those mistakes. I think everyone at Cadwell Park and possible the entire conference learned a lot about the kind of player, and person, Casey Solem is on Friday.
I was almost equally impressed with the resolve of Ethan Opsahl. After pitching a heck of a game, it's entirely possible for a pitcher to come unraveled after his defense makes a game-changing error like that. However, Opsahl kept his composure beautifully and kept putting up zeroes as the offense finally came alive and got the Tigers back into the game. Opsahl was rewarded with the win, and it was certainly well-deserved after a great performance.
Also, Nick Loera's growth as a hitter was evident Friday. After battling with injuries last year, it was still evident the shortstop had loads of a talent - a great glove and a good bat. But lately Loera has really blossomed. His opposite-field home run started the scoring in the comeback, and he added a huge RBI single to get DWU within a run in the sixth. His hitting has really made the Tiger lineup dangerous.
In the second game, there were a few interesting storylines as well. The first is DWU's 1-2 combo of Solem and Mario Mendoza. If there's a better combo in the GPAC, I can't wait to see it. The two was at its best after Northwestern tied the game 2-2. Solem led off the next inning with a blast over the right-field wall. In a great display of one-upsmanship, Mendoza came up and hit an even deeper bomb. Fittingly, both players are tied for the team lead in home runs with seven apiece. It was almost as if once Solem hit one, Mendoza had to hit one too to get back in a tie for the team lead. It will be fun to watch these two battle for the team's home run crown the rest of the way.
By the numbers, Mendoza is hitting .472 with eight doubles, seven homers and 27 RBI. Solem is hitting .462 with six doubles, five triples, seven homers and 37 RBI.
The other important development Friday is the improvement of starting pitcher Jeff Sanchez. He gave up just two runs over six innings in game two for his second great start and second-straight GPAC win, and he's developed into a solid No. 3 starter for the Tigers behind Phil Johnson and Opsahl.
Hopefully the Tigers can play well again Sunday. Defending GPAC regular-season champ Nebraska Wesleyan comes to Cadwell for a 1 p.m. doubleheader. Though the Prairie Wolves are off to kind of a slow start in GPAC play, they still have a great team and some of the league's best pitching, so another sweep would be a huge step towards challening for this year's league title for Steve Gust's squad.
Also, let's hope Sunday's doubleheader goes quick. I have to head out of town immediately after the games so I can get to Minneapolis for the Twins' first game at Target Field on Monday afternoon. Here's hoping for a pair of shutouts Sunday, and clear skies in the cities for outdoor baseball!