Franklin and Manchester tops in HCAC

By Dave Kisor for

Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC): For the fifth year in a row, the HCAC had a new regular season champion, this time in the Spartans of Manchester, who last won the regular season title in 2006. The Spartans ended conference play with a 17-7 record, one game ahead of Franklin at 16-8. However, it was Franklin that got the best of Manchester in the conference tournament, earning a trip to the NCAA tournament.

HCAC regular season champion: Manchester
HCAC tournament champion: Franklin
NCAA tournament participant: Franklin
HCAC Player of the Year: Michael Tucker, Anderson
HCAC Freshman of the Year: Scott Windler, Franklin

Franklin celebrates a win at the Mideast Regional over Frostburg State.
Franklin athletics photo

Franklin (16-8; 30-14): The Grizzlies traveled to North Manchester, Indiana, to play in the HCAC tournament as the No. 2 seed and promptly won three straight games, upsetting Manchester and earning the automatic bid to the Mideast region tournament in Marietta, Ohio. Facing Manchester in the HCAC championship game, Franklin junior pitcher Shawn Mattingly held the Spartans scoreless, allowing six hits in a complete game 9-0 route. It was the first time that Manchester, ranked No. 5 in the country in runs scored, was shutout all season.

2011 marked the first time the Grizzlies advanced to the NCAA Mideast tournament. They entered the regional tournament as the No. 4 seed and battled No. 5 Frostburg State, holding on for a 3-2 victory. The game ended as Grizzly reliever Devin McNealy struck out Frostburg’s Torian Cyrus, with the bases loaded. That would be the last victory of the year for Franklin as they fell to eventual champion Marietta 6-0 and Case Western Reserve 10-4, to be eliminated from the tournament.

Franklin’s 30-4 overall mark was the third best in school history, with numerous players leading the way. Senior second baseman, Ian Sanders earned first team All-HCAC and second team All-Mideast region status with a .346 BA, including 15 doubles, 7 home runs and 33 runs batted in. Joining Sanders on the All-Mideast region second team was HCAC freshman of the year, Scott Windler. The outfielder led the Grizzlies with a .414 BA, with 8 home runs and 31 RBIs. Also earning All-Mideast region honors were third team players Alex Boone and Nathan Ellis. Boone, a third baseman, batted .361 and led the Grizzlies with 19 doubles. Ellis, a junior pitcher, led Franklin in wins with a 9-2 record. He struck out 64 batters in 89.1 innings, finishing with a 3.73 ERA. Senior pitcher Cody Nees finished the year with a 5-2 record. He led the team in ERA (3.66) and struck out 76 batters in 71.1 innings, earning first team All-HCAC honors. First baseman Jordan Smuts earned an ABCA/Rawlings golden glove award. The senior had a fielding percentage of .997 with 368 put outs, 13 attempts and only one error.

Manchester (17-7; 28-15): After winning the HCAC regular season championship, Manchester looked to advance to the NCAA tournament again, having made it four times previously. Hosting the HCAC tournament and holding the No. 1 seed, the Spartans opened up tournament conference play with a sound 15-5 win over Anderson. Sophomore right fielder Bryce Murphy led the way for the Spartans, going 2 for 5 with 2 runs scored and 3 RBIs. Trey Forbes, the Spartan senior catcher went 3 for 4, scoring three times, while driving in two. Curtis Mallery picked up his seventh win as the senior struck out nine Anderson batters over nine innings. The “pivotal” loss of the HCAC tournament for Manchester was in the second round when they were beat by eventual champion Franklin 9-7. This loss meant the Spartans had to come back and beat Franklin to get the NCAA tournament spot. However, as mentioned above, it was Franklin that came out on top as Manchester’s usually potent offense went silent in the 9-0 season ending loss.

Six Spartans earned All-HCAC first team awards, including senior first baseman Ty Foster (.381 BA, 69 H, 49 R, 10 HR, 62 RBI) , senior outfielder David Tatham (.370 BA, 44 H, 37 R, 2 HR, 21 RBI), sophomore second baseman Cody Schell (.379 BA, 55 H, 37 R, 3 HR, 24 RBI), Murphy (9-1, 4.89 ERA, 49.2 IP, 40 SO, 16 BB; .303 BA, 43 H, 37 R, 3 HR, 23 RBI), Forbes (.420 BA, 71 H, 64 R, 7 HR, 44 RBI), and Mallery (8-1, 3.42 ERA, 81.2 IP, 88 SO, 20 BB). Forbes, Foster, Mallery, and senior designated hitter John Smolinski (.325 BA, 51 H, 32 R, 5 HR, 48 RBI) were All-Mideast region honorees. Forbes was named to the first team, while Foster, Mallery, and Smolinski earned second team honors.

The continued success of the Manchester program in 2011 brought Head Coach Rick Espeset HCAC Coach of the Year honors for the fourth time. In 16 years at the helm of the Spartan program, Espeset has amassed a record of 391-245-1 (0.615). He has taken the Spartans to four NCAA tournament appearances and one World Series appearance (2004).

Neil Krueger joined teammate B.J. Zobrist on the Capital One  Academic All-American team.
RHIT athletics photo

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (16-9; 27-16): Hoping to continue the success of recent years, the Engineers entered the 2011 season with the expectation to advance to the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year. The team finished third in the regular season, up one place from the 2010 campaign. However, the HCAC tournament did not go as planned. Although the Engineers had the second lowest team ERA in the HCAC, 4.40 to Mt. St. Joseph’s 3.95, heading into the HCAC tournament, they gave up 13 runs to eventual champion Franklin in the first round game. In round two of the HCAC tournament, the Engineers knocked out Anderson, 8-3, to move on and play regular season champion Manchester. In that game, Rose-Hulman took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the third inning. Manchester chipped away at the lead scoring two runs in the bottom of the third and one run each in the 4th, 6th, 7th, and 9th innings to pull out the win and end the Engineers’ season.

Five Rose-Hulman players earned All-HCAC first team honors. Pitcher Jim Bob Schuler led the team with a 7-2 mark with an ERA of 2.72. It was Schuler who pitched eight strong innings, striking out nine in Rose-Hulman’s HCAC tournament win over Anderson. On the season, the junior had 55 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. Joining Schuler on the HCAC first team were sophomore third baseman Bobby Newman (0.401 BA, 63 H, 37 R, 2 HR, 42 RBI), senior outfielder Chris Stemple (.356 BA, 58 H, 47 R, 3 HR, 23 RBI), senior Michael Kovacs (outfield; .414 BA, 70 H, 49 R, 6 HR, 39 RBI), and junior designated hitter Derek Dauenbaugh (0.440 BA, 59 H, 33 R, 3 HR, 38 RBI). Kovacs was an All-Mideast first team selection and gold glove winner with a fielding percentage of .990, while Newman and Dauenbaugh earned third team honors. Dauenbaugh was also named honorable mention All-American by

Anderson catcher Michael Tucker was the HCAC Player of the year and a first team All-American in 2011.
Anderson athletics photo

Anderson (14-8; 26-14): The Ravens secured fourth place during the HCAC regular season, earning the final spot in the conference tournament. This was the 34 year that Anderson has participated in post season play, either in the NAIA or NCAA division 3. Making it into the conference tournament was one thing, making out was another as the Ravens went “two and out” getting beat by Manchester in round one and Rose-Hulman in the second round. Although going 5-3 against the top three seeds in the conference tournament during the regular season, the Ravens did not fare well come tournament time.

One of the bright spots of Anderson’s successful season was the play of Michael Tucker. The junior catcher batted .433 with 45 runs scored, 61 hits, 14 doubles, 16 home runs, 66 runs batted in, and a fielding percentage of 0.988. He led the HCAC in slugging percentage (.901), on-base percentage (.539), RBIs, home runs, and total bases (127).Tucker’s 16 home runs puts him atop the all-time list at Anderson as his career total stands at 39. These statistics led to Tucker being named HCAC player of the year. Additionally, Tucker was named to the All-Mideast region first team and’s All-American first team. Teammates, pitcher Greg Vogt (8-3, 3.75 ERA, 86.1 IP, 40 SO, 14 BB) and short stop Brady Roundtree (.374 BA, 61 H, 55 R, 7 HR, 34 RBI) were All-HCAC first team members. Vogt and Roundtree were second and third team All-Mideast region selections, respectively.

Drew Zuickerman (pictured) and Thomas Tolliver Captiaoned the Pioneers in 2011.
Transylvania athletics photo

Transylvania (12-9; 21-12): The Pioneers last won the HCAC regular season title in 2007 and in 2008 they won the HCAC tournament and earned the school’s first NCAA tournament bid. The “middle of the pack” is where Transylvania has resided for the last few years, including this season when they just missed returning to the conference tournament, finishing fifth. Their 12-9 record was essentially the same as their 12-10 in-conference mark of 2011. They faltered down the stretch, losing their last five conference games in falling out of contention for tournament play. The Pioneers’ senior outfielder Ben Kuebbing finished his career with a strong year, earning HCAC first team honors. Kuebbing hit .453 with 48 hits, both which led the team. He scored 27 runs, pounded 6 home runs and batted in 33 runs. Fellow Pioneer senior Drew Zuckerman, a catcher, was also an All-HCAC selection. Zuckerman led the team with eight home runs and 38 RBIs. He batted .387, had 46 hits, while scoring 32 runs.

Mt. St. Joseph (14-11; 21-19): The Lions improved from their sub-.500 2010 conference record with a 14-11 mark. The 14 wins tied them with Anderson, but Mount had 11 losses to Anderson’s 9. The uneven number of conference games between HCAC members left Mount with a winning percentage of .560, behind Anderson (.636) and Transylvania (.571) to finish in sixth place in the conference. Three Mount St. Joseph players earned first team All-HCAC awards, including Josh Denny, Ben Stroube, and Drew Ernst. Denny, a junior short stop led the Lions in batting average (.426), and hits (55). Stroube, a senior outfielder hit .377 and led the team with 30 runs scored. He and Denny each had three home runs. Ernst, a junior pitcher led the Lions with 60 strikeouts in 53.1 innings. He went 4-3 with a 4.05 ERA.

Bluffton (11-13; 19-20): While the Beavers finished 7th in the HCAC regular season standings and out of the running for conference tournament play, the season could be viewed as successful. The team finished the 2011 campaign with a school record of 19 wins overall. The 11 wins in the HCAC was also a school record. Junior short stop Nick Broyles led the Beavers with a .400 batting average, 51 runs scored, 18 doubles, 8 home runs and 48 runs batted in and in doing so, was named to the HCAC first team. Outfielder Kyle Niermann also earned HCAC first team honors. The outfielder hit .382 and led the team with 68 hits. He scored 42 runs, had 3 home runs and 36 RBIs.

Mitch Hunnicutt was one of four Hanover players who have received HCAC All-Conference honors.
Hanover athletics photo

Hanover (10-14; 15-23): The 10 conference wins by the Panthers were the most since 2005, when they finished 4th in the HCAC. Their 8th place conference finish was similar to the previous five seasons, where they finished no higher than 7th. Hanover did secure conference wins against Franklin and Manchester that highlighted their 2011 campaign. On the pitching side, things are looking up for the Panthers as freshman Mitch Hunnicutt (2nd team All-HCAC) had a solid year. Hunnicutt went 7-3 with an ERA of 3.34. He had five complete games, striking out 35 batters in 62 innings of work.

Earlham (6-18; 13-24): This was the first year for the Quakers in the HCAC as they came to the conference after 21 seasons in the North Coast Athletic Conference. The Quakers are “rebuilding” as they moved to the HCAC, with a roster that expanded to 25 players as compared to 14 players on the 2010 roster. Earlham swept Defiance College to avoid being in the conference cellar.

Defiance (2-21; 6-32): While the Jackets finished at the bottom of the HCAC, their young squad gained valuable experience. Twenty-four members of the 33 man roster were either freshmen or sophomores. This included ten pitchers. The biggest win of the year for Defiance came against #25 Adrian College, champions of the MIAA.