TIFFIN – On a blustery Tuesday at Peaceful Valley, it looked like the No. 7 Heidelberg University baseball team would deliver a knockout blow in the early rounds. But it wasn't until Austin Fleming, a noted Rocky aficionado, rocked a three-run pinch hit triple in the seventh that the Student Princes took control of the fight with Denison University. Fleming's hit to right center gave The Berg a five-run lead and Heidelberg cruised to a 14-5 win.
Sophomore T.J. Harkness had five of Heidelberg's 14 hits on the afternoon. Harkness, Fleming and Alex Grove each drove in three runs.
Adam Manner (6-2) picked up the win, throwing 7.0 innings and striking out five. Manner gave up five runs, three earned.
Heidelberg (28-5) chased Denison starter Ian Walsh from the game in the first inning before the sophomore could record an out. Walsh walked Joe Staab and Arneal Squibb before hitting Steven Morse. Grove ripped a line drive single to center, driving in Staab and Squibb. Harkness reached on a hard hit ball to third and moved to second on a wild throw by Tucker Davison. The infield single allowed Morse to score. Walsh departed after a walk to Hug.
Reliever Charlie Binford came on and wriggled out the jam. Binford struck out Adam Hershberger, got Trevor Oldham to hit into a fielder's choice and induced a groundout from Andrew Zenczak.
Denison (15-13) threatened in the first, but Hug gunned down Alex Enrique at the plate as the runner tried to score on a fly ball to left. Manner was not as lucky in the second. Georgie Montes was hit to start the inning. Montes stole second and moved to third on a single by Nick Marsit. Montes scored on a 4-6-3 double play off the bat of Brandon Morgan.
In the third, Denison delivered a body-blow to Manner and the Student Princes. Andrew Tuohy flared a run-scoring double inside the right field line and gave the Big Red two runners in scoring position. Ryan Mulligan followed with a two-run single up the middle, giving DU a 4-3 lead.
"We had a good start and had a chance to put up a really big inning together, but it didn't happen," said Heidelberg head coach Matt Palm. "Coach Deegan has done a great job at Denison in the couple of years he has been there, so you know they are always going to compete ... and they came right back."
The Student Princes fought back in the bottom of the frame. With one out, Harkness blooped a single to left center. Up next, Hug sent a bouncer to first that was gloved by Enrique. Enrique's throw to the shortstop Mulligan was in plenty of time for the force out, but Mulligan dropped the baseball. Harkness scored the tying run on a two-out single by Oldham.
Denison's J.T. Trimble relieved Binford to start the fourth and was greeted by a single to center off the bat of Staab. Squibb drew a walk before Morse reached on a chopper down the first base line. Grove drew a bases-loaded walk, forcing home Staab. Harkness reached on another infield single, plating Squibb. After a strikeout by Hug, Hershberger hit an RBI fielder's choice to third.
Trailing 7-4, Denison plated an unearned run in the fifth. Tuohy singled and moved to second on a groundout. He scored on a misplayed by ball Staab at second.
Manner, undaunted, would fire 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and the seventh.
"I thought Adam really kept his composure and kept us in the game until we could regroup and play the way we are capable of," said Palm. "I thought he did a really nice job for us."
In the seventh, Hershberger singled and Oldham was hit by a pitch. Trimble departed and southpaw Matthew Zmuda came on. Zenczak's sacrifice bunt sent the Hershberger and Oldham to second and third. After a strikeout by Staab, Squibb walked to set up Fleming's heroics.
With the lefty on the mound, Palm opted to bring in Fleming in place of the lefthanded-hitting Morse. And Fleming, who bears a resemblance to Rocky IV villain Ivan Drago, crushed Zmuda's 1-0 pitch to deep right center field. Fleming crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
"We feel like we have a lot of offensive weapons and unfortunately, you can only play nine at a time," said Palm, in his final season at the helm of HU baseball. "Austin has put together a very nice season and has had some big games and big at bats."
Leading 11-5, Heidelberg tacked on three more runs in the eighth. Zenczak had an RBI groundout and Staab sent an RBI single to right. Later in the frame, Harkness singled up the middle to score another run.
Chris Thomas and Travis Gray combined for two innings of scoreless relief as Heidelberg closed out the non-conference win.
The Student Princes return to action on Wednesday at No. 16 Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The battle between the top-25 teams is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start.