by Alan Babbitt
Pitcher Sam Balke brought much-needed calm amid a rocky stretch for the 20th-ranked Hope College baseball team.
The reliever from Newaygo, Michigan (Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern HS) fired four-plus scoreless innings at Trine University on Tuesday in a makeup doubleheader.
Balke's 1 2/3 innings on the mound in Game 2 helped the Flying Dutchmen earn a 12-9 victory after the Thunder won Game 1, 8-3.
With that Game 2 win, the Flying Dutchmen snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 26-4 overall and 16-4 in MIAA play. Hope stands in second-place in the MIAA, trailing first-place Adrian College by one game in the league standings.
"I can't say enough about Sam Balke in both games. He pitched extremely well, " head coach Stu Fritz said. "It's crazy to say, but in a way I thought our backs were back up against the wall going into Game 2. We really needed that one. We got some timely hits. We found a way to get it done when we absolutely had to have it."
Balke entered in the fourth in Game 2 after Trine (11-19, 7-13) scored twice to cut Hope's lead to 8-7. He retired both batters he faced and stranded out a runner at second.
In the fifth, Balke (3-1) retired three of the four batters he faced, including two by strikeouts.
In Game 1, Balke struck out a career-high six in 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
The Flying Dutchmen played their second doubleheader in two days on Tuesday. They have two more coming later this week during a four-game series against Albion College on Thursday-Friday, April 25-26.
Catcher Trace Slancik of Scotts, Michigan (Vicksburg) led Hope's Game 2 15-hit attack by going 4-for-5 with three RBIs. He smacked his second home run of the season.
All nine Hope starters recorded at least one hit. Center fielder Evan Maday of Grand Rapids, Michigan (East Kentwood) went 2-for-5 with three RBIs.
Right fielder Mason Opple of Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) finished 3-for-5 to raise his batting average to .432.
Third baseman Joey Merucci of Northville Township, Michigan (Detroit Catholic Central) homered for the first time this season.
In the opener, second baseman Jordon Fairchild of Muskegon, Michigan (Oakridge) led off with his MIAA-leading eighth home run of the season, but it was all Thunder after that
Trine scored three times in the second and four in the fourth for an 8-2 lead.
Slancik collected two of Hope's six hits, including an RBI double.
The Flying Dutchmen will relish a day off before beginning the Albion series — the second-to-last of the MIAA season.
"It's a tough week. We're asking a lot of our kids this week to be athletes and to be students," Fritz said. "We'll go to class and try to get caught up a little bit, clean up a few things and be ready to go on Thursday."