Record-setting regular season culminates in post-season tourney
Sports | Jared Nelson
Junior pitcher Joe Zorn delivers a pitch in a game earlier this season. Zorn's 55.2 innings pitched ranks him first on the team and second among all MIAC hurlers. | Photo for The Clarion by Drea Chalmers
With a series-split against Concordia on Monday, the baseball team secured the two-seed in this weekend’s MIAC tournament and tied a school record for most wins in a regular season. This will be the third consecutive trip to the postseason following a 12-year drought.
The team has had its share of individuals stand out during the historic season, but a constant has been its pitching. The staff boasts a 4.01 ERA, good enough for third in the MIAC. In addition, the league has honored sophomore hurlers Tyler Heitmann and Jake Hanzalik as pitchers of the week earlier this season.
According to Heitmann, the work ethic and unity of the team off the field has paid dividends during the games.
“We put our nose to the grindstone for the past six months and took it upon ourselves to make sure we were getting better everyday, pushing each other and holding one another accountable,” Heitmann said. “We put in the work and believe in each other to compete and give us the best chance to win.”
Heitmann’s teammate and fellow pitcher Joe Zorn agreed.
“Overall we got after it, and that really helps with the chemistry,” Zorn said. “I love my guys and I would do anything for them.”
He noted that the pitchers have been mixing in some sessions of hot yoga to stay in shape during the season and bond with one another, adding that it is quite a hit among the entire staff.
Chemistry among pitchers is a unique thing, as there is never more than one pitcher on the field at a time, and they’re often competing with one another for playing time. According to Heitmann, the competition for innings only brings them closer together. Everyone’s primary concern is the success of the team.
“Whenever anyone is pitching there are never any feelings of animosity,” Heitmann said. “We’re constantly picking each other up when someone has a bad day.”
He also alluded to a “next man up” culture that is infectious throughout the entire team. Failure is woven in the fabric of baseball, but nobody is afraid to fail because they know that there’s an entire roster of teammates that have each other’s backs.
With the regular season behind them, the Royals understand that an entirely new task awaits them at Veterans Field in Minnetonka. The four-team, double elimination tournament has them paired with St. Mary's in the first round, a team that they lost to twice in the regular season. The top seed in the tournament is a familiar foe, the St. Thomas Tommies.
St. Thomas has held a national ranking all season long, and they head into the tournament as the favorites. The Royals split their season series at Hargis Park with the Tommies in dramatic fashion, as catcher Mike Schultz blasted a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 7th to hand St. Thomas their first loss in conference play on April 22.
That win put pressure on St. Thomas atop the MIAC and earned Bethel votes in NCAA Midwest Regional poll, giving them confidence during the stretch run of the season, when it matters most.
According to Zorn, it’ll take a complete effort to dethrone the Tommies, and it starts with the pitchers.
“If we set the tone on the mound and give the game some flow, it takes pressure off the defense and gives the hitters confidence to know that they don't have to put up a ton of runs,” he said. “If we execute and don't beat ourselves, I believe we have the talent to beat anybody.”
Heitmann added that the team has had this weekend circled on their calendars since the start of practice in January, with their goal being to win the MIAC tournament.
“It’s always been on the back burner,” he said. “Now it’s time to cook.”
Update: The Royals ended their season on May 11, taking second in the MIAC championship game against the St. Thomas Tommies at Veteran's Field in Minnetonka, Minn.