If Rodney Dangerfield was still alive, he’d love the Roanoke College baseball team.
The Maroons got “no respect” as they entered the Old Dominion Athletic Conference baseball tournament last weekend. The All-ODAC team was announced prior to the tournament and 40 players were named to the first, second or third teams.
Top seeded Shenandoah had seven selections, including three on the first team, as well as the Coach of the Year and the Pitcher of the Year. Second seeded Washington & Lee had four first team selections and six overall. Eastern Mennonite, who didn’t even make the tournament, had two first teamers.
And then there’s Roanoke College. The Maroons, winners of a school record 25 games during the regular season, slipped into the tournament as the sixth and final seed. They must have done it with mirrors, however, as the Maroons had just one player named among the 40, a third team selection. Collier Donald didn’t even get a position, being named to the third team at “Utility.”
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Roanoke coach Matt McGuire. “They told us to go by ODAC stats, and a lot of other guys had better averages in the ODAC games. But sometimes stats aren’t everything. We have guys who do things that don’t show up in the statistics. It’s been a team effort, we don’t have any superstars.”
Luckily for RC coach Matt McGuire, the game is still played on the field. Once the umpire yelled “Play Ball” at Lynchburg City Stadium last weekend the overlooked Maroons went from scrubs to Cinderellas by winning the ODAC tournament for the first time since Roanoke College began fielding a baseball team 15 years ago.
“We, the coaches, had confidence we could do this,” said McGuire. “Even after we lost Friday, we knew we had to win just one game Saturday and one game Sunday to get to a doubleheader on Monday. And, if you win the first game of a doubleheader you have all the momentum for the second game.”
The Maroons defeated Washington & Lee twice on Monday, 9-6 and 4-3, to nail down their first ODAC title. The win secures and automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament, and the brackets will be set this Sunday. Anything from here on is gravy for the 29-16 Maroons, but don’t think they won’t be hungry to extend their best season ever.
Coming from the losers’ bracket, the Maroons needed to beat W&L twice on Monday. In the first game of the day, Roanoke needed just four hits to score nine runs in a 9-6 victory.
With Washington and Lee up 1-0 in the fourth inning, Collier Donald and Will Decker walked to open the inning and came around to score on a Dean Hermanson double down the left field line to put RC in front 2-1. Later in the inning Scott Ellis grounded out to score Hermanson to make it 3-1.
In the Roanoke sixth, the Maroons loaded the bases with no outs and Donald scored on a wild pitch to make it 4-1, while Drew Mikula was hit by a pitch later in the inning with the bases loaded to make it a 5-1 game.
Roanoke loaded the bases again in the seventh inning and got RBI walks from Sam Watson and Ellis, then a sacrifice fly from Mikula made it 8-1. Watson would make it 9-1 on a double steal.
W&L rallied scoring two runs in the seventh, then three in the eighth to make it 9-6 and threatened with the bases loaded with no outs, but Sal Trancucci got Matt Wasson to ground into a 1-2-3 double play and got a groundball out from Johnny Swenson to end the inning.
The Generals brought the tying run to plate with one out in the ninth but Sal Trancucci got the final two outs to secure the win.
In the championship game, Roanoke got on the board in the second inning when Watson walked to open the frame, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Scott Ellis and scored on an RBI groundout by Will Black to go in front 1-0.
W&L loaded the bases in the visitor half of the second inning and scored to tie the game when Paul Diven was hit by a pitch. The Generals then moved ahead 2-1 on an Austin Crane sacrifice fly.
The Maroons came right back in the next half inning, scoring twice on a Donald double to left field that plated Sean Guida and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Hermanson that brought home Donald later in the inning to make it 3-2 RC.
In the Roanoke fifth inning, Donald singled with one out and moved to second on a Will Decker base hit. A Hermanson single loaded the bases and a sacrifice fly by Watson scored Donald to give RC a 4-2 lead.
Washington and Lee got a run back in the bottom half of the sixth inning to cut the score to 4-3 and then had runners on second and third in the seventh inning, but Cameron Eck was able to retire Anderson Baldy to get out of the inning and preserve the lead.
Rawlings Cumbea then entered the game on the mound in the eighth inning and surrendered just one hit, struck out two and was able to get Cory Paton to pop out to end the game and secure the first league championship in program history.
Ethan Delahunty (1-0) got the win for RC after tossing two innings of relief and Cumbea (1) picked up the save.
The weekend started out with a 4-2 loss to Shenandoah, a team that had been ranked number one in Division III during the season.
On Saturday Roanoke stayed alive with a 4-2 win over Hampden-Sydney. Steven Loney (6-2) went seven strong innings, giving up just three hits and one run, while striking out four. Trancucci went two innings to pick up the save. The win gave McGuire his 100th win at RC.
On Sunday the Maroons took on third seeded Randolph-Macon and won a thrilling extra inning game to stay alive, 11-9 in 11 innings.
Down 6-3 after seven innings, Roanoke rallied for five runs in the eighth inning to move in front 8-6. Watson and Hermanson each doubled to open the inning. An Ellis RBI single scored Watson. After Black was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Eli Sumpter singled to score Hermanson then Guida doubled off the first base bag, scoring Ellis and Black. Donald then plated Sumpter with a sacrifice fly.
In the RC ninth, Hermanson singled to open the inning and moved to second on an Ellis sacrifice bunt. Two batters later, Sumpter laid down a bunt that was thrown away by the R-MC pitcher, allowing Hermanson to score and make it a 9-6 game.
R-MC rallied in the home-half of the ninth, getting a Cole Miglorini double and a single to open the inning. Jay Patti scored Miglorini with an RBI single and Spiers came home on a groundout. Stuart Brown then singled to score pinch runner Daniel Wilkerson to tie the game at 9-9.
In the decisive Roanoke 11th inning, Watson led off with a double and moved to third when the hit was misplayed in the R-MC outfield. Two batters later, Ellis tripled to score Watson to put RC in front 10-9. Ellis would score an insurance run on a balk to make it 11-9.
Sumpter got the win for RC after tossing four innings of relief to improve to 3-0 on the season. Watson, Ellis, Hermanson and Sumpter each had three hits, while Ellis had three RBI. Guida and Donald each had a pair of RBI in the win.
That put the Maroons in Monday’s championship, and two wins over W&L sealed RC’s first ever bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The All-Tournament team was named Monday evening, and this time RC got a little more respect. Donald, Watson, Ellis and Guida were all named to the team.
“This is great for the program,” said McGuire. “This is what we were working for. Back in 2012 when I told them we were going to win the ODAC championship within five years they looked at me like I was crazy, but that’s just what happened and I’m not at all surprised.”