LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Transylvania baseball team completed a patient and gradual trek to the top of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference on Saturday afternoon with a championship-clinching 11-2 win over the Earlham College Quakers in the HCAC Tournament Championship at Kentucky Proud Park.
The Pioneers went a perfect 3 for 3 in the winners' bracket over three days to complete a dominant procession to their first HCAC Conference Tournament title in 13 seasons. Transylvania defeated Earlham in a one-sided performance for the second time in two days to win the double-elimination second leg of the HCAC Tournament.
For the first time in program history, the Pioneers captured their first HCAC regular season and tournament championships in the same season and also achieved their first conference crowns in the Zack Getsee era.
Transylvania clinched the HCAC automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships, set to begin next week. The NCAA will announce the full tournament bracket and Transylvania's destination and tournament opponent later Sunday.
The Pioneers completed their season-long HCAC odyssey with a 31-10 overall record, matching the program record for most wins in a season. Earlham's inspiring drive through the losers' bracket of the HCAC Tournament ended at the hands of the Pioneers with a 25-20 overall record.
Hudson Chastain went 5 for 5 at the plate with a walk to finish off a masterful HCAC Tournament display as the senior was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. The infielder extended his single-season program record for hits to 79 with a perfect day at the plate which also entailed two runs batted in.
After beating Bluffton in the morning game and needing to force an if-necessary championship game on Sunday, the Quakers continued their momentum into the afternoon with a solo home run in the top of the first to take a 1-0 lead. The Pioneers quickly evened things up in the bottom half of the first as Trent Youngblood led off with a base hit and Chastain drove in the freshman with an RBI double to square up the score at 1-1.
Starter Evan Hall held the Quakers in check in the second inning and Earlham did the same to Transylvania before the Pioneers assembled a patented big inning in the third to take control of the afternoon for good.
Wade Lopiccolo led off the third inning with a walk and Chastain and Riley Willbur provided back-to-back base hits, the latter scoring Lopiccolo for the Pioneers' first lead of the afternoon at 2-1. A sacrifice fly RBI from Michael Blair extended the lead to 3-1 followed by two more Pioneer walks to knock Earlham starter Aidan Talarek out of the game. Transy took advantage with an RBI groundout from Matt Broadwater and an RBI double from Trent Pahl to vault to a 5-1 stronghold.
Behind a two-run single by Youngblood and an RBI base hit from Lopiccolo, the Pioneers put up another four-spot in the fifth inning to begin the championship procession. Hall bowed out of the game in the top of the sixth after recording the first out; Earlham tallied its final run of the game on an unearned run, but reliever Max Medley picked off a threatening Quaker runner at third for the second out, quelling Earlham's last true stand.
Hall claimed the win for the Pioneers, striking out four and walking three while allowing four hits and one earned run in one of many individual championship-standard performances on Saturday.
Jared Leuthart landed the Pioneers onto the championship runway, working the final three innings for his second save of the season, striking out five, walking one, and allowing no runs.
Youngblood followed in Chastain's footsteps, becoming just the second Pioneer ever and first freshman to register 70 hits in a season with a 2 for 5 day at the plate with two RBI and a walk. Willbur went 3 for 6 with three RBI for to obtain 47 on the year, third-most in program history for single-season RBI. Youngblood, Chastain, Willbur, and Jake Schmidt were all named to the HCAC All-Tournament team for their career-defining performances over the week.
Trent Pahl, Lopiccolo, and Blair each tallied two runs apiece as the Pioneers outhit Earlham, 19 to 8 on Saturday.
The championship clincher was the final chapter in a dominant HCAC Tournament week at Kentucky Proud Park that saw the Pioneers outscore opponents, 43-9 and amass 57 hits to 28 for their three tournament opponents.
Transylvania now looks ahead to the NCAA Regionals, scheduled for May 27-31. The winners of the eight NCAA Regionals scheduled for next week will advance to the NCAA College World Series on June 4-9 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.