NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. -- Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology advanced to the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament for the first time since 2010 with a 6-3 victory over Manchester University in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament championship game on Saturday afternoon.
The Fightin' Engineers scored four runs in the first inning and relied on a strong defensive effort to earn the fourth conference tournament championship in school history. Rose-Hulman will make its sixth appearance in the NCAA Division III Tournament starting Wednesday and a site and time to be announced on Monday.
Sophomore Kody Alayon (Hammond, Ind./Bishop Noll) was named HCAC Tournament Most Valuable Player after finishing 3-4 with a double and one run scored. Sophomore Caleb Kissel (Plainfield, Ill./North) added two singles, scored twice and had one RBI, while sophomore Patrick Klima (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph's) had two singles and one RBI.
The offensive effort helped make a winner of junior R.J. Carroll (Lexington, Ky./Catholic), who tossed six innings to pick up the victory. Carroll scattered seven hits and pitched around four walks with the help of a strong defensive effort to hold Manchester to just one run. Sophomore Daniel Sutherland (Centennial, Colo./Regis Jesuit) pitched 1.2 scoreless innings, before junior John Krasich (Westfield, Ind./Brebeuf) recorded the final four outs to secure the victory.
Rose-Hulman scored four runs in the top of the first to gain immediate control of the game. Alayon opened the game with a double and advanced to third on a single by senior Hank Akard (Indianapolis/Ben Davis). Alayon scored on a wild pitch to make the score 1-0. Following a successful sacrifice bunt by senior Andrew Benitez (Mililani, Hawaii), sophomore Donnie Waters (Franklin, Ind./Franklin) recorded an RBI ground out to push the lead to 2-0.
Junior Josh Hoeing (Rushville, Ind./Rushville) then provided the biggest hit of the game, a two-run triple to right field that scored Kissel and freshman Zach Trusk (Plainfield, Ill./North) to push Rose-Hulman's first inning lead to 4-0.
The Rose-Hulman defensive tone was set in the bottom of the first inning, as Tailur Szarenski singled to right field with two outs, but a relay throw from Hoeing to Waters to Trusk cut down a potential run trying to score and kept the margin at 4-0.
Manchester scored once in the sixth inning, but Carroll's final pitch of the day was a ground out to end the threat. The Fightin' Engineers added two insurance runs in the eighth inning on a single by Kissel, a stolen base and wild pitch, and a sacrifice fly by Trusk. Sophomore Warren Whithaus (Robinson, Ill.) kept the inning alive with a single, and Klima drove home the sixth run of the day with an RBI single of his own.
Manchester rallied in the bottom of the ninth to close within 6-3 and threaten to spoil the celebration. Sean Knepper singled, Kyle Norris walked, and Dan Maringer singled with one out to load the bases. Sarenski then singled to make the score 6-2, and an RBI ground out brought the Spartans within three runs. Krasich coaxed Ryan Lehrman into a foul out to right field for the final out of the game.
The Manchester offense featured Knepper, Szarenski and Elliott Ford with two hits each. Dylan Padgett provided a gutty pitching performance, tossing 7.1 innings after starting Thursday's game and closing out a Spartan win earlier in the day on Saturday.
The baseball team marks Rose-Hulman's third men's team to advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament this season. The men's soccer squad advanced to the NCAA Division III Sweet Sixteen, and the men's basketball squad qualified for its third straight NCAA Tournament in March.
In addition to Alayon as Most Valuable Player, other Rose-Hulman players on the all-tournament team included Benitez, Carroll and sophomore pitcher Andrew Stull (Sammamish, Wash./Eastlake).
Rose-Hulman will enter the NCAA Division III Tournament with a 26-16 record. The Fightin' Engineers will find out their tournament destination on Monday, and play begins in the NCAA Division III Tournament on Wednesday.