by Alan Babbitt
First, left fielder Jack Sojka, pictured left, drew a bases-loaded walk for the first win at Boeve Stadium. A few hours later, center fielder Evan Maday, pictured right, lined a game-winning homer over the right-field fence.
Two games, two dramatic, 7-6 walk off wins for a Hope College baseball team on an unprecedented roll.
The nationally ranked Flying Dutchmen swept visiting Alma College in memorable fashion by identical scores on Saturday.
Hope extended its win streak to 13 games while improving to 22-1 overall. The Flying Dutchmen upped their league record to 13-1 and stayed tied for first place in the MIAA standings with Adrian College (20-4).
It wasn't easy, though, for Hope — which entered the weekend with a .952 winning percentage that ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division III. The Flying Dutchmen debuted in this week's Collegiate Baseball Top 30 rankings at 28th.
"Typical Alma team: scrappy, plays hard, never quits," head coach Stu Fritz said. "I didn't think we executed very well, but we found a way in both games. It's what we've said all season. When you love being around each other that much, you find ways to win. I couldn't be happier for the two wins, but we've got some things we need to clean up."
In Game 1, Hope answered after Alma rallied with six runs to tie the score. Leftfielder Jordan Andstandig hit the Scots' third homer of the game — a solo blast — in the top of the seventh to pull them even at 6-6.
The Flying Dutchmen loaded the bases in the bottom of the inning, but Alma turned a double play and threatened to force extra innings. Back-to-back walks to third baseman Joey Merucci of Northville, Michigan (Detroit Catholic Central) and Sojka brought in the decisive run for Hope.
Sojka, a senior from Glen Ellyn, Illinois (Glenbard West), was down to his last strike with a 2-2 count before earning his game-deciding walk.
"He just battled. No one wants it more than Jack," Fritz said. "He's a senior. He's been an absolute gem in our program. Not necessarily being a starter all time, he's worked his tail off to get where he's at. For him to do that with the game on the line, that's pretty special for him."
Reliever CJ Otteman of Zeeland, Michigan (Zeeland East) missed a chance at a save, but improved his record on the mound to 4-0. He tossed 1 ? innings of one-run relief.
Shortstop Brant Kym of Libertyville, Illinois (Libertyville HS) led Hope with two runs batted in on a third-inning single.
In Game 2, Hope overcame an early 4-0 deficit to Alma (9-15, 5-9 MIAA).
Catcher Trace Slancik of Scotts, Michigan (Vicksburg) started the rally with a fourth-inning solo home run.
The Flying Dutchmen grabbed a 6-5 lead with a three-run sixth. The Scots tied the score on a RBI double from centerfielder Peter Carravallah in the top of the eighth.
Reliever Dane Martin of New Baltimore, Michigan (L'Anse Creuse North) retired three of the five batters he faced to set the stage for Maday. Martin (3-0) was helped by a ninth-inning, unassisted double play turned by first baseman Ted Eppinga of Saline, Michigan (Saline) after an Alma liner following a leadoff single.
With two outs, Maday hit a 2-2 pitch out of Boeve Stadium for his first home run of the season and was mobbed by his teammates at home plate.
"An absolute laser," Fritz said.
Hope's next games are Tuesday, April 16 with a 2 p.m. non-league doubleheader at Aquinas College.