“Sitting fastball … I knew it was crushed.”
Those were the thoughts senior pinch hitter Evan Berliner had as he yanked a two-out, walk-off home run down the left-field line to end game one of the home opening doubleheader at Butterfield Park against the North Park University Vikings.
The three-run bomb capped a six-run EC ninth inning rally that began with the Bluejays trailing 7-2 and ended with the aforementioned Berliner blast, his first career home run as a Bluejay.
Brandon Kressner began the inning with a six-pitch, leadoff walk. Ben Havel followed that up with a towering, two-run homer to cut the deficit to three.
“Honestly, in that spot you’re not trying to hit a homerun, you’re trying to get on base any way you can,” said Havel. “Coach always says ‘a walk is as good as a home run’ in that point. You just got to get guys on base, and so I ran into it, got a little lucky and then Evan cleaned it up for us.”
After Havel’s home run, his team leading fifth longball of the season, the Bluejays sent four men to the plate. Although North Park retired two of them, the line kept moving and a pair of Bluejays reached safely ahead of Berliner, setting the stage for his heroic swing.
“Evan Berliner is a gamer. He knows this game, he understands this game. He is unfazed by the situation, obviously,” said Bluejays’ manager Joel Southern. “Many of those pinch hitting situations, you’re looking for first thing smoking. You’re looking for a fastball and you’re looking for something up, early in the count. And obviously he got it.”
Berliner is hitting .300 on the season with a pair of doubles, five runs batted in, and one home run.
In addition to Havel’s contributions at the plate, the 6’7” right-hander also started the game on the mound and provided his manager with a quality outing; however, it took him a few innings to settle in.
“I think Havel settled down in the third, eventually. And you know, we were down four to one by that point, but he settled down and pitched pretty well,” added Southern.
Working in the mid-eighties with his fastball much of the day, Havel managed to miss enough bats to keep his team within striking distance and work deep into the contest. Throughout his six innings of work, Havel struck-out eight and walked three, allowing four runs (three earned) on seven hits.
“You make a couple mistakes and you just kind of have to fight through it,” said Havel. “I mean, I gave up a couple big hits that I wasn’t happy with, but you’ve got to keep going. That’s how baseball works.”
Although he was directly responsible for turning the tide in favor of his team, Berliner took the victory in stride as he put his role in the outcome into perspective.
“I’m just trying to help the team win. That’s all I’m trying to do,” said Berliner.
The victory brought the Bluejays’ record to 7-8 on the season as they began game two.
The Bluejays ended the day with an 8-8 record (2-1 in CCIW) after Trey Compton slapped a walk-off single into leftfield to give his team a 6-5 win. North Park fell to 8-13 (1-4 in CCIW) after a pair of losses on the day.
With EC right-hander Nick Drago toeing the rubber for the second leg of the twin billing, the teams traded runs throughout the first three frames. The Bluejays held onto a 2-1 advantage entering the fifth inning.The starter, Drago, managed to hold the North Park bats in check until the fifth inning, when they struck for four runs and made the score 5-2 Vikings.
The Bluejays responded with a rally of their own in the bottom half of the sixth, scoring three and putting themselves back into the game. From that point on, both teams remained relatively quiet until the ninth, when Compton had his own chance to be the hero.
“I knew that I faced him [North Park pitcher Sean Eder] the time before and he struck me out on a fastball inside. I overheard coach saying that they wanted to throw inside on me, so the first pitch he threw me was a fastball inside, and I swung and fouled it off and then the same thing came pitch two and I was ready for it, so I put it, you know, in the hole,” said a chuckling Compton.The outfielder lined a single through the left-side of the infield and brought Austin MacMillan home from second base to score the winning run.
“It’s big. It's a big momentum booster for the team and the guys are really excited for conference,” added Compton. “So getting those two wins today, it really gives us that first step in the process of being CCIW champs.” His manager concurred.
“Fortunately we were able to mount a rally there and do what we needed to do,” said Southern. ”Just really proud of the guys … It’s a great win. It’s great to get that first conference win.”
EC baseball heads out to Augustana on April 8 and Millikin on April 11 before coming home for a doubleheader against Carthage on April 14.