October 24, 2014

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College baseball: Oberlin having a blast making history — in NCAC Tournament for first time

OBERLIN — The Oberlin College baseball team earned a spot in the North Coast Athletic Conference playoffs for the first time in school history.

Oberlin College infielder Mitch Novak, a Vermilion graduate, is part of the Lorain County influence on the Yeomen. (Photo provided by Oberlin College.)

And the players had a lot of fun along the way.

The Yeomen (21-19, 11-8 NCAC) will square off with top-seeded Wooster (29-10, 15-3) at Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe today in the first round of the double-elimination conference tournament.

Oberlin, Wooster, Denison and Allegheny will battle for the title and a trip to the NCAA regionals.

“Fun doesn’t even describe it,” third-year Oberlin coach Adrian Abrahamowicz said. “It’s been amazing just to see guys achieve things that have never been done in the past. Just to talk to people, administrators at the school, and have everyone really excited about what we’re doing. … It really means so much to so many people in the community. It’s been awesome.”

The Yeomen have won seven of their last 10 games and set school records in wins — surpassing the 19 in 2010 — and conference wins, topping the eight in 1987.

“The nice stretch we’ve had over the last 10 games has given us a lot of confidence,” said Wellington graduate Justin Kidd, who has a 1-3 record as a starting pitcher. “That’s what we need going into this tournament for the first time ever. No one really believes in us but ourselves, so we’re going to need that confidence going into the tournament.”

Oberlin’s late-season success can be tied to its early season schedule. The Yeomen went just 2-8 during a spring-break trip to Arizona, but the level of talent they faced provided a valuable learning experience.

“Playing the tough teams early in the season has helped us,” said Wellington graduate Ryan Bliss, an outfielder who is hitting .305 out of the leadoff spot. “Coach set us up with a really good schedule and we’ve played some good, quality ballclubs. That really got us ready for the conference because we came in swinging hot bats and used to tough competition.”

Kidd agrees.

“Even though our record was only 2-8, playing those really good teams helped us,” he said. “The pitching knew what it had to do and the great pitching we faced helped our hitters out in the end. The schedule was awesome for us.”

That was the plan all along, according to Abrahamowicz, who’s had stops at multiple Lorain County high schools.

“For most of the season our strength of schedule was in the top 5 percent in the country, so we’re pretty battle-tested,” he said. “And the guys have been very resilient. When you play four conference games in a weekend or when you have a spring break where you play 10 games in five days, you have to be resilient.

“This team also doesn’t have any quit in it. We’ve been able, after a tough game, to bounce back and win a big game the next day. It’s a much more resilient team than we’ve ever had.”

Having players who have more going for them than just baseball certainly doesn’t hurt.

“We look for people that want to be great in all phases of life,” Abrahamowicz said. “Obviously, we’re looking for guys with 30s on their ACTs and with straight A’s, but we’re also looking for players. Those guys that want to be great in the classroom aren’t going to come out here and waste their time.

“When you come out to see us for early work you’re going to see 25 guys every day … guys juggling tough classes that are pre-med, pre-law, different things. It’s really impressive to see what these guys can do. They’re motivated and hungry.”

The intelligence means quite a bit between the lines, according to Vermilion graduate Mitch Novak, an infielder with a .333 batting average.

“Baseball is a mental game and you have to be very mentally strong,” said Novak, who bats second. “Obviously, everyone here has to be smart to go here, so I think that’s definitely an advantage on the field. We have a whole team of guys who really know what they’re doing out there.”

Wooster will provide Oberlin with a challenge. The Scots have earned a few NCAA Division III Top 25 votes and took three of four against Oberlin during the regular season.

“Wooster is a great team, a national power,” Abrahamowicz said. “They’ve been to nationals, regionals, won the conference, probably 75 percent of the years it’s been going on. They’re going to bring it. We’ll have to go out and play well, but it’s a challenge we’re up for. Without question.”

Regardless of what happens in Chillicothe, this year is one Bliss will remember.

“This season has been a blast,” he said. “These guys are a lot of fun. I’ve played a ton of baseball in my life and this is the funnest baseball I have ever played. It’s a great group of guys. We’re winning and having a good time doing it.”

Today

  • WHAT: NCAC Tournament, first round
  • WHO: Oberlin vs. Wooster
  • TIME: 10 a.m.
  • WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Chillicothe
  • NOTES: Denison and Allegheny are the other teams.

The first-round winners play at 4 p.m.; the losers at 7. The tourney is double-elimination and scheduled to end Friday.

Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or macsportstalk@gmail.com.