Johns Hopkins runs its way past Babson

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By Pat Coleman

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Johns Hopkins used aggressive baserunning and the biggest video replay overturn of the tournament so far to get a big lead early, and held on as Babson made sure it was exciting once again down the stretch before the Blue Jays survived with a 6-5 win on Saturday in an elimination game at the 2019 Division III World Series.

The Blue Jays will return later tonight to face Birmingham-Southern. Johns Hopkins will have to beat the Panthers tonight, and then again tomorrow, in order to advance to the Division III Championship Series. Birmingham-Southern can move on with one win against Johns Hopkins.

Tim Kutcher went first-to-third on a fairly standard single to center and scored on a wild pitch on a day in which Johns Hopkins was fairly aggressive on the basepaths.
Photo by Larry Radloff,

And the second meeting between Johns Hopkins and Babson in three days looked a lot like the first, as the Blue Jays took one-run games from the Beavers in both outings. And no run proved more crucial than an insurance run in the ninth, where left fielder Tim Kutcher got things started with two outs and the bases empty. He one-hopped a double off the wall, then came around to score on a Chris Festa single, his third hit of the day.

“We probably should have had a few more runs, because we had a lot of hits, a lot of baserunners,” said Hopkins coach Bob Babb. “But that run in the last inning proved to be the difference, and I’m glad our kids kept battling because I knew that (Babson) would keep battling.”

They battled in the ninth against Blue Jays sidearmer Josh Hejka. Hejka started and threw 155 pitches for Johns Hopkins on Friday, came out of the bullpen and got the save.

 “Just to be honest, I am tired, but it’s the College World Series,” Hejka said after the game. “As a senior, nothing’s guaranteed. Every time I go out there could be my last time pitching, so whatever the team needs, I’m going to give it everything I have.”

And the outing came replete with plenty of drama. Hejka, a sidearmer, keeps the ball low and succeeds when he gets ground balls, but two of the first three Babson batters, Connor Gill and Game 7 hero Jake Oliger, reached on seeing-eye grounders that snuck between the shortstop and second base.

Babson very quickly converted that into a run, as Eric Jaun singled through the right side to bring Gill in with a run, cutting the lead to 6-5 and leaving two runners on with one out. But Edward Lehr bounced out to first and Matthew Valente hit a grounder to third which Matt Ritchie fielded cleanly to end the game.

“The infield seems to be playing very fast here, because a couple of those balls weren’t hit that hard, but they were seeing-eye hits. But, if we’re going to lose with (giving up) ground balls, I’ll take that. The last two batters, I told our pitching coach, let’s just try and stick with (fastballs down and in), which are Josh’s strength, because I thought they were poking a few of his offspeed pitches the other way.”

Aggressive running helped lead to Johns Hopkins runs in the third inning and the fourth, as the Blue Jays felt they could run on both the Babson catcher and the Beavers’ outfield.

The Blue Jays caught a break in the third inning to get their first run on the board. With two runners on, No. 5 hitter Chris DeGiacomo hit a grounder down the first base line which Babson first baseman Matthew Valente appeared to have a bead on, until it hit the bag and bounced over Valente’s head and into the outfield, bringing Mike Eberle in to score and putting Chris Festa on third. DeGiacomo then took off for second and, when Babson threw down to second, he stopped and Festa sprinted for the plate, sliding in just ahead of the tag to make it 2-0.

A.J. King brought DeGiacomo home with a single. DeGiacomo was originally ruled out, but after a replay review of a couple of minutes, the call was overturned and JHU led 3-0.

“I sent DeGiacomo on the base hit because I didn’t think the center fielder (could throw him out),” said Babb, “and fortunately there was (video) review, or we wouldn’t have gotten that run.”

Tim Kutcher’s aggressive baserunning made JHU’s fourth run happen. Kutcher had been kept off the bases twice in the first three innings, as his grounders in the hole were backhanded by Babson shortstop Brian McHale both times. But he reached on a single to the outfield in the fourth, and dashed from first to third on a single to center by Eberle. Kutcher then charged down the line on a wild pitch and got his hand in ahead of the tag.

Valente led off the fifth with a double for the Beavers and Babson was in business. An infield single and a walk later, Babson had the bases loaded with nobody out and Chris Gill hit a ball to deep center to bring in a run on a sac fly. Babson added a second run when James Ingram threw the ball into center field on a first-and-third situation but Sean McCracken fanned Jake Oliger to end the threat.

The bottom of the seventh proved a fortuitous time for Babson as well. Thomas Lapham walked and Brian McHale singled to start the inning with runners on first and second and nobody out before Connor Gill lashed a single to left. Lapham had stopped at third, but Kutcher bobbled the ball in left field and Lapham scampered home with a run to cut the lead to 5-3.

Sean McCracken coaxed a double play ball out of Sean Harrington, but Oliger looped a single into left field, scoring McHale to make it 5-4 after seven, and that’s where it stood entering the ninth.

“We probably should have had a few more runs, because we had a lot of hits, a lot of baserunners,” Babb said. “But that run in the last inning proved to be the difference, and I’m glad our kids kept battling because I knew that (Babson) would keep battling.”