TERRE HAUTE —
On the surface, serving as host for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference baseball tournament would appear to benefit Rose-Hulman’s No. 1-seeded team, which finished the regular season 27-12 overall and 18-6 in the conference.
But playing games today, Friday and possibly Saturday in the double-elimination tourney at Art Nehf Field is no guarantee of success for coach Jeff Jenkins’ Engineers, especially considering the HCAC tournament host hasn’t won the championship since 2004 when Manchester accomplished the feat.
“First of all, the law of averages says the No. 1 seed is bound to win it again one of these years,” Jenkins told the Tribune-Star. “So it might as well be this year.”
Then the veteran Rose coach turned serious.
“We’re coming in with confidence,” Jenkins emphasized. “We’re probably going to start, for the first time this season, the lineup we anticipated having all year long… [Senior] Derek Dauenbaugh is back from a ruptured Achilles tendon. He’s not 100 percent, but he’s pretty close to it.
[Sophomore outfielder/shortstop] Parker Fulkerson will be back [after suffering a concussion]. He passed all of his impact tests, so he’ll be back. So we’re going to be at full strength offensively for the first time all year.”
Pitching-wise, well, that’s another story.
Senior left-hander Jim Bob Schuler (7-3, 4.40 earned-run average) suffered a partially torn muscle in his throwing elbow last week and may not be available until Saturday.
Rose-Hulman is slated to face fourth-seeded Manchester at 7 p.m. today. If it wins today, it will take on the Franklin-Anderson winner at noon Friday. If it loses today, it will battle the Franklin-Anderson loser at 3:30 p.m. Friday. A loss there would eliminate the Engineers. A win there would propel them into Game 5 at 7 p.m. Friday.
In other words, Rose needs to get to Saturday’s championship game (or games) — starting at noon — before it can worry about Schuler’s availability.
Starting in Schuler’s place today will be freshman righty Ben Menich (6-0, 2.42 ERA), who already owns a regular-season victory over Manchester this season. During a three-game series April 28-29 at Manchester, Rose-Hulman defeated the Spartans 7-6 (with Menich starting on the mound) and 6-3 before losing the finale 7-6.
“Ben’s been great for us all year long,” Jenkins stressed. “You never know how a freshman’s going to react, but our guys just have to play loose. It is great to be at home. We don’t have to worry about anyone missing classes [today]. Sometimes that weighs heavily on a guy’s mind when he has to make up a test.”
Jenkins warned that the Engineers need to bring their best effort today because Manchester is capable of knocking them into the losers’ bracket.
“Manchester is extremely strong,” he mentioned. “I thought going in [to the season], they might be the favorite to win the conference. They hit. They have big, strong, physical kids, very athletic. They’re much bigger, stronger and faster than we are. No doubt about it. They just have better athletes and that’s not a knock on our kids.
“All four of these teams have great qualities and they all are capable of winning this tournament… Frankly, we might be the No. 1 seed, but we’re the weakest team in the field [physically]. That’s a credit to our kids because they play extremely hard and they’re attentive to details.”
Rose’s leading hitters have been sophomore outfielder/pitcher Hank Akard (.373, 33 runs scored, 14 doubles, 12 stolen bases), former Terre Haute North High School standout Fulkerson (.348, 22 runs), sophomore infielder Andrew Benitez (.340, 30 runs, 27 runs batted in), sophomore infielder Bobby Newman (.319, three homers, 32 runs, 26 RBIs), senior outfielder Jamie Weinle (.309, seven homers, 30 RBIs), junior first baseman/third baseman Donald Stopka (.296, 27 runs, 23 RBIs), senior shortstop Will Burchett (.286, 29 runs) and junior catcher/first baseman Matthew Turk (.286, 25 runs, 21 RBIs, six steals).
“We’ve been playing pretty well,” Burchett assessed. “The last couple of weeks, we’ve shown more potential offensively.”
“I really see it all coming together this week,” Schuler added. “The fact that it’s going to be at home will really help… We really haven’t played to the best of our abilities yet, which is kinda scary.”
The HCAC tournament champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
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HCAC baseball notes — Rose-Hulman has qualified for five Division III tournaments in its history and won conference tournament titles in 1995, 1996, 2009 and 2010. This season’s HCAC regular-season championship was its first conference-wide league title since 1996.
• Last season’s HCAC tournament champ was Franklin, which did so at Manchester.
• This is the 20th season for the HCAC (formerly Indiana Collegiate Athletic Conference) baseball tournament.
• The Rose defense leads all divisions of NCAA baseball with 66 double plays turned.
HCAC baseball tournament
At Art Nehf Field, Rose-Hulman
(seeds in parentheses)
Game 1 — No. 3 Anderson (25-15, 17-8) vs. No. 2 Franklin (30-9, 18-7), 3 p.m.
Game 2 — No. 4 Manchester (22-18, 14-11) at No. 1 Rose-Hulman (27-12, 18-6), 7 p.m.
Game 3 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, noon
Game 4 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 3:30 p.m.
Game 5 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, noon
Game 7 — 30-45 minutes after completion of Game 6 (if needed)