MARION, Ind. -- One could not ask for a better day for the first home Indiana Wesleyan University baseball games of the season. It was a sunny and clear day with mid-70 degree temperatures at Wildcat Field as IWU hosted Concordia (Mich.) University.
"It's great for us to play this early," said Indiana Wesleyan head coach Chad Newhard. "Coming back from Arizona you just never know how the weather will be and when the next time you can get outside or when you will get to play your next game. It's really big for us to get out here today and the weather was beautiful. Hopefully this warm streak will continue so we can continue to play consistently."
Indiana Wesleyan (8-11) got things off on the right foot on Wednesday with a thrilling 7-6 victory in game one but fell just short in game two by a 6-5 margin. Freshman third baseman Preston Fugita capped off a huge game one win with a walk-off single to cap a two-run seventh for the Wildcats.
"Preston got a big hit," Newhard said. "We had some guys do some stuff earlier to give him that opportunity. Preston did a good job keeping the ball through the middle. He's done a real nice job for us early. His on base percentage is high and he has come up with some timely hits for us. I'm happy for him and that he came through for us. I'm happy for this team because we had a lot of guys come through in that game to give us a chance to win."
Three times in the first game Indiana Wesleyan would come from behind to tie or take the lead.
"We battled back in the first game because we did some things well," said Newhard. "We did well offensively."
The first time came in the bottom of the first after Concordia scored twice in the top half of the inning. Centerfielder CJ Sandmann led off with a single and later scored when cleanup hitter and rightfielder Craig Dollens jacked a home run to deep left field to tie the score 2-2.
Concordia (8-10) quickly regained a two run lead with two runs in the top of the second. Indiana Wesleyan got one back in the bottom half of the inning. The first three batters for Indiana Wesleyan drew walks and Sandmann followed with a RBI single through the middle of the infield. Unfortunately Indiana Wesleyan could do no more damage with an infield popup and then a double play to end the inning.
Once again the Cardinals got a run back with a run in the third inning. That 5-3 lead held into the bottom of the fifth. Catcher Alex Ridlen walked to lead-off the inning and courtesy runner Trey Shigley stole second. With two outs in the inning, first baseman Peter Engle doubled to deep left to score Shigley. Second baseman Jacob Murphy then singled to left to score Engle and tie the game 5-5.
In the top of the seventh inning reliever Justin Sovine got into trouble as the first two Cardinals reached and both were in scoring position. Tim Zeigler came into relieve and nearly got out of the jam. Evan Novak attempted to lay down a suicide squeeze but missed as Chandler Sidwell was thrown out at home. Novak then grounded out to Zeigler for the second out. But after nearly getting out of the jam, Zeigler threw a wild pitch which allowed Concordia to take a 6-5 lead.
But the Wildcats roared back in the bottom of the seventh as Dollens singled and designated hitter Javier Aponte walked. Engle then laid down a sac bunt and the throw to first was wild allowing courtesy runner Shigley to score and tie the game 6-6. Two batters later with one out and the bases loaded, Fugita came to bat and singled to shallow right-center field for the 7-6 walk-off victory.
Dollens was 2-of-4 with a run and two RBIs while Murphy went 2-for-2 with a run scored and a RBI. Sandmann, Aponte, and Fugita also all contributed a pair of hits as Indiana Wesleyan outhit Concordia 11-9.
Indiana Wesleyan starter Chris Tyler lasted 4.1 innings and allowed five runs -- three earned -- off seven hits and six walks. Zeigler (3-1) was credited with the win in 1.0 inning of relief.
In the second game Wednesday the teams continued to fight in a back and forth game that Concordia was able to pull out 6-5.
"When you lose the second game of a doubleheader you're going to be disappointed," stated Newhard. "But we'll use this to get better."
Concordia was first on the scoreboard with a run in the second. Indiana Wesleyan would grab its first lead of the game in the bottom of that inning.
Dollens walked to lead off the inning and then Aponte laid down a bunt and beat the throw for a single. Engle followed with a sac bunt to put the runners in scoring position. Murphy's ground out to short scored Dollens and then shortstop Josh Ellis' grounder to second led to another run as the throw went wide of first.
The Cardinals scored solo runs in each of the third and fifth innings to reclaim a 3-2 advantage. But the Wildcats responded with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to retake a 4-3 lead.
Fugita led off with a double to deep left center field. Sandmann walked but a Nofziger ground out led to runners at the corner with one out. Ridlen followed with a walk to load the bases and Dollens connected on a single through the hole to score Fugita and Nofziger.
Concordia answered in the next half inning with three runs, chasing freshman starting pitcher Bryan Beachy. Beachy (1-2) took the loss allowing six runs -- five earned -- in 5 plus innings of work.
Trailing 6-4, Indiana Wesleyan would close to within one run in the sixth. Murphy led-off with a single and Ellis chased him home with a triple to deep left-center field. Unfortunately, IWU could not plate the tying run as the next three batters were unable to get the ball out of the infield.
The Wildcats earned one last chance to tie the score in the seventh. Dollens started with a lead-off single but was forced out on an Aponte sac bunt attempt. After and Engle strikeout, Murphy singled to center to send pinch runner Tim Zeigler to third. But Zeigler was left stranded on a fielder's choice to second to end the game.
"We had opportunities in the second game but we just didn't get the guys in when we had those opportunities," added Newhard. "Give them credit, they made the plays in that game and made it tough on us. We put the ball in play and they made some good plays. They hit the ball pretty well in that game too."
Murphy finished 3-of-4 with one run and one RBI while Dollens was 2-for-3 with two knocked in.
Indiana Wesleyan springs into Mid-Central College Conference play their next time out on Tuesday, March 20 at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University.