Championship teams are forged from likely and unlikely heroes. The Great Midwest Athletic Conference tournament title won by the Hillsdale College baseball team featured both.
The Chargers wrote some more history by winning their first-ever conference tournament title in a 15-2 win over Kentucky Wesleyan College at Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio. The win grants Hillsdale the G-MAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional tournament, which begins next week at a site yet to be determined.
An eight-team double-elimination tournament tests any team's pitching staff to the limit. Hillsdale head coach Eric Theisen handed the ball in the title game to sophomore Joe Hamrick, who came up with easily the best performance of his career.
With both teams severely short on fresh, available arms, Hamrick answered the bell, pitching all seven innings with two runs and eight hits allowed, striking out one. Hamrick hadn't started a game all year and entered the game with an earned run average above 8. Instead of folding to the pressure, Hamrick rose up and displayed terrific stuff that the coaching staff has always believed he'd had. Hamrick completed his seven-inning effort with an efficient 89 pitches, 55 of them strikes.
That was the unhearalded player who stepped forward to help deliver Hillsdale a championship. The heralded player was one fans know well, and one who made history.
Junior catcher Steven Ring blasted three home runs and had a conference record 9 RBI to lead the Chargers to the win. The second of his three home runs set the new Hillsdale career record for home runs. After his ridiculous display Saturday, Ring has 35 career home runs, 15 this season. He shatters a record that had stood since 1987.
Ring's first home run gave Hillsdale an immediate 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. His second, also a three-run shot, was a towering hit that cleared the right-center field fence, and helped the Chargers to an 8-0 lead through the second inning. His third left Prasco Park completely, clearing the seats in right field to add yet another chapter to what is quickly becoming a legendary career.
Sophomore Dante Toppi, who had a career-high 6 RBI in Saturday's first game, added a solo home run to the power display in the championship game.
The story of this G-MAC championship saw its origins two years ago, when that baseball team set the GLIAC record for home runs, won two conference tournament games, and qualified for the NCAA regional tournament for the first time. The veteran players on the 2018 team were youngsters in 2016, but they obviously took the lessons learned then and applied them to today.