by Alan Babbitt
Nick Lepore didn't hesitate when the fastball came on the first pitch, even though he'd gone hitless in his first four at-bats.
Hope College's designated hitter laced the ball into right field for a go-ahead, two-run single in the bottom of the eighth inning during the MIAA Tournament opener against Albion College.
Lepore's two-out hit capped a four-run rally that propelled the Flying Dutchmen to a 7-5 victory on Wednesday at Adrian College. Lepore, pictured, and Hope (30-9 overall) advanced to face Adrian College, a 7-5 winner against Alma College earlier in the day.
First pitch is scheduled for 12 p.m. on Thursday, May 9 at Adrian, weather permitting. The double-elimination tournament is scheduled to have three games on Friday.
"Nick's got confidence as a hitter," head coach Stu Fritz said of Lepore, a senior co-captain from Clinton Township, Michigan (Warren DeLaSalle). "He hadn't gotten it done, but we were looking for a first-pitch fastball and got it."
The Flying Dutchmen sent nine batters to the plate during the eighth. Left fielder Jack Sojka of Glen Ellyn, Illinois (Glenbard) started the comeback with a one-out double. Hope then loaded the bases with a walk and a hit-batter around a strikeout.
Right fielder Mason Opple — the MIAA's RBI leader - followed Evan Maday's hit by pitch with a two-run single to center to even the score. The junior from Hudsonville, Michigan (Hudsonville) now has 117 career runs batted in that are third-most in team history and three from breaking the Flying Dutchmen record.
After shortstop Brant Kym of Libertyville, Illinois (Libertyville) walked to load the bases. Lepore delivered his 20th and 21st runs batted in of the season — a career-high.
Reliever Shane Hykin of Ada, Michigan (Forest Hills Northern) then fired a 1-2-3 ninth for Hope.
Hykin, now 4-1, tossed 2 ⅔ innings of scoreless relief. He struck out three and only allowed one hit.