Like many Wheaton College students, the Wheaton Thunder Baseball team took a trip this spring break. The team traveled to sunny Tucson, Arizona, where they played seven games in the Tucson Invitational. Over the course of eight days, the Thunder went 4-3 on the road, moving their overall record to 5-4 on the season.
The Thunder began the Invitational on Mar. 3 with a double header against Howard Payne University and Rockford University. In the first game, Howard Payne came out hot, scoring early and often. With Howard Payne scoring 13 runs in the first seven innings –– compared to Wheaton’s two –– even the Thunder’s late charge of seven runs in the final two innings wasn’t enough, and resulted in a 13-9 loss. In game two, however, Wheaton’s offense bounced back with nine runs on nine hits. Behind a stellar seven-inning, 14-strikeout, zero-walk pitching performance from junior Michael McCraith, the Thunder were able to hold Rockford to three runs, giving McCraith the 9-3 win.
After a day off, the Thunder faced off against Wabash College and quickly fell 15-4 in a seven-inning game shortened by the runrule. Wabash’s offense rolled as they put runs on the board in every inning of the game. Their 15 runs came on 12 hits with three errors by the Thunder, whose record dropped to 2-3.
The Thunder didn’t stay down long, though, as they were able to show their resilience a day later in a 9-8 win against North Central University (Minn.). Wheaton’s bats came alive during the game as they got out to a comfortable 7-0 lead after three innings. However, North Central didn’t go down easily, and they scored runs in four consecutive innings to bring the score to 9-5 by the bottom of the seventh. After no more runs by Wheaton, North Central began the bottom of the ninth with three quick runs, but senior reliever Nick Johnson forced a ground ball to freshman third baseman Graham Core, who stepped on the bag and fired across the diamond to junior first baseman Clay Morrison for a game-ending double play, giving Wheaton the 9-8 victory.
After two days of rest, Wheaton continued to play well, taking both games of their double header against Bethany Lutheran College with wins of 12-5 and 5-4, respectively. Game one was shortened by the run rule as the Thunder scored in every inning. Wheaton’s 12 hits were spread among eight different players, and the team was led by junior Ben Brittain, who recorded four hits of his own. Game two was a come from behind victory, as the Thunder found themselves down 4-2 until the sixth inning, where Evan Ogden’s two-run homer tied the game. Wheaton would score one more run in the sixth, which was enough to give them the 5-4 victory and give senior pitcher Ty Hoeksma his second win of the season, with reliever Nick Johnson earning his second save.
Wheaton’s three-game win streak snapped the next day, however, as they dropped their final game of the Tucson Invitational to Cornell College 5-6. After Cornell came out with an early three-run lead, Wheaton responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth. Cornell extended the lead to 5-2 in the top of the seventh, but Wheaton again responded, this time with three runs, to tie the game at five. After Cornell scored a lone run in the top of the ninth, the Thunder were unable to bring a man around in the bottom half of the inning to extend the game, ending their time in Arizona with a tough loss.
The Thunder were led offensively over the trip by Ben Brittain and freshman Jesse Welch, who both tallied hits in all seven games. Brittain had 14 hits and 11 RBIs, while Welch recorded 10 hits and five RBIs. For the pitchers, Michael McCraith (2-1) got wins in both of his outings while Ty Hoeksma (2-1) and junior Caleb Selk (1-0) also added a win each. Nick Johnson recorded two saves.
The team will begin a six-game homestand this weekend with the Wheaton Invitational, held at Lee Pfund Stadium, where they will face Saint Mary’s University on Friday and Alma College and Aurora University in a double header on Saturday.