Jackets baseball takes 2nd place in ODAC

It wasn’t easy, and sometimes it wasn’t pretty. But in a gutsy effort, Randolph-Macon baseball reached its first of three goals for the 2014 season.

“Our first goal this year was to finish in the top two in the ODAC, and we’ve done that,” said Randolph-Macon head coach Ray Hedrick.

This came after the Yellow Jackets completed a Saturday sweep of the Guilford Quakers by scores of 8-7 and 3-2 to finish 14-6 in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play and earn the number two seed in this weekend’s ODAC Tournament in Lynchburg.

Mitch Keener, sophomore and Atlee High School graduate, hit a key double in Randolph-Macon’s 3-2 win in game two of a doubleheader, helping secure second place standing for the regular season.

Mitch Keener, sophomore and Atlee High School graduate, hit a key double in Randolph-Macon’s 3-2 win in game two of a doubleheader, helping secure second place standing for the regular season.

The Jackets began the day tied for second in conference play with Bridgewater, and when word hit Ashland that the Eagles lost their first game of a doubleheader with Lynchburg just before Randolph-Macon took game one of theirs, everyone knew their first goal was in reach. A victory in game two meant second place.

They would have to do it with a freshman at second base, third base, and in the outfield, none of whom were starters just a week earlier. Stuart Brown spelled Nate Meiners at third, Lonnie Dillard helped ease the loss for the season of Michael Trentham in the outfield.

But it was former Benedictine standout, Jordan Schmeer, who took his opportunity at second base, and turned it into the engine that drove the Jackets offense to victory. He was 4-for-9 in the two games, scoring two runs in game one while driving in two more, and driving in two of the Jackets’ three runs in game two, including the tying run in the fifth.

The Jackets and Quakers were scoreless until the Guilford fifth when a grounder to Brown at error was mishandled, allowing Gabe Mirabelli to score from third. In the bottom of the frame, with two down, Schmeer roped a double to right, allowing Blake Saathoff to score from second to tie the game at one.

Schmeer immediately gave credit to his elder teammates after the game.

“Our seniors are leading the way, with our juniors as well. We’re just trying to follow their footsteps and win another ODAC for the older guys,” Schmeer said.

Schmeer’s double was only the second hit of the game for Randolph-Macon, who only managed four on the game. In the doubleheader, the Quakers had 24 hits to the Jackets’ 14. It wasn’t due to effort.

“We missed some opportunities to extend the lead and thought we were swinging the bat well, even though we had just four hits (in game two) to show for it,” Hedrick said, pointing out how several hard hit balls were simply hard-luck, directed straight to Quaker defenders.

Randolph-Macon took the lead when Mitch Keeler (Atlee) jacked a double to right to lead off the sixth. Keeler advanced to third on an error, then scored on a Saathoff sacrifice fly. The insurance run came when, who else, Schmeer, tripled into the gap in right center field, allowing the speedster Dillard to score.

But the day also belonged to senior starter Jamie Hendrick, who willed his way to a masterful performance in his final appearance at Hugh Stephens Field. Hendrick went 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on six hits, striking out six to earn the victory to finish the regular season with a 6-1 mark. After reliever Jake Bram closed out the eighth, ensuring the Quakers left the tying run on base, Glenn McLaughlin worked the ninth to earn his second save of the day, and seventh of the season.

Hendrick’s final walk from the mound to the dugout was quite emotional.

“I begged him (Hedrick) to let me go back out there and get one more out,” Hendrick noted. “When I got into the dugout, I had to hold some tears back. It was really tough.”

His six victories equaled the mark he set his freshman year. Going into the ODAC Tournament, he has 16 career victories, impressive considering he missed his entire junior season.

In spite of reaching their first preseason goal, the Jackets have legitimate worries going into the playoffs. They committed eight errors in the doubleheader win. They coughed up four more in Monday’s season-ending 10-9 win over Marymount, where they blew a 10-4 lead going into the ninth inning.

The defense must improve as tournament play leads every team to the brink of elimination, and the end of their season. Freshmen playing their first ODAC Tourney will need to continue their maturation process.

But as one of only two seniors on the team, along with pitcher Matt Fischgrund, Hendrick understands what it takes to take home the trophy from Lynchburg, having done so in both 2011 and 2013, and how being seeded second is important.

“First, we get to be the home team for awhile, and have that extra at-bat just in case,” he said. “Everyone will be coming for us, having won two of the last three. It’ll be tough, but I believe we have a good chance.”

Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 11:25 am