by Alan Babbitt
The strategy against the 23rd-ranked Hope College baseball team made sense. With first base open, intentionally walk one of the Flying Dutchmen's top hitters to set up a potential inning-ending double play.
Hope's best hitter made the plan backfire.
Right fielder Mason Opple singled to left in the bottom of the 11th inning to drive in Evan Maday for a 4-3 walk-off win for the Flying Dutchmen in Game 2 of a doubleheader against visiting Trine University on Friday at Boeve Stadium.
Hope also took Game 1, 5-0, for a sweep in the opener of the four-game series. The MIAA-leading Flying Dutchmen (25-1 overall) upped their win streak to 16 games — the second-longest in team history.
With a 15-1 league record, Hope leads second-place Adrian College (15-3 MIAA) in the league standings after Adrian split with third-place Albion College on Saturday. The Flying Dutchmen are scheduled to play a doubleheader at Trine on Tuesday, April 23 at 2 p.m.
Friday's Game 2 win was Hope's third in four MIAA games. The Flying Dutchmen swept Alma College on back-to-back walk-offs by identical 7-6 scores on April 13 at home.
Trine opted to intentionally walk Maday — an All-MIAA first-team center fielder last season as a freshman. On an 0-1 pitch, Opple delivered his team-leading 34th RBI of the season and the 105th of his career. He went 4-for-6 with two runs batted in after going hitless in Game 1 against Trine.
"In that situation, that's the only move they had," head coach Stu Fritz said of Trine's choice to face Opple instead of Maday. "Mason just came through. One of the things (Hope football coach Peter) Stuursma said in a FOX-17 story last night about Mason was 'Don't bet against him.' I was thinking of that when he was up."
Opple now is hitting .421 this season — the second-highest average for MIAA players for all games. His 34 runs batted in are tied for third in the league and two off his career high.
While Opple had the walk-off hit and an important one-out diving catch in the ninth, he was joined by several teammates who came through in the clutch.
Shortstop Brant Kym of Libertyville, Illinois (Libertyville) tied the score at 3-3 with a two-out RBI double in the seventh.
Reliever Dane Martin of New Baltimore, Michigan (L'Anse Creuse North) tossed 2 ⅔ innings of scoreless relief from the seventh through ninth innings.
Reliever CJ Otteman of Zeeland, Michigan (Zeeland East) hurled his best outing of the season according to Fritz, while recording the final seven outs.
Otteman, now 5-0 this season, was helped by a leaping grab of a line drive by Fairchild that prevented a Trine hit to right field in 10th.
"It was grinding and guts. The kids just wanted it," Fritz said of his team's performance. "We defended. We pitched, and we swung the bats when we needed to. We've got selfless players. They don't care whose turn it is to get it done."