Laurier’s baseball team wins first-ever OUA championship
GUELPH, Ont. – Former MLB draft pick Mitch Clarke walked up to the pitcher’s mound at the beginning of the ninth inning and stretched his arm.
The Wilfrid Laurier men’s baseball team was up 5-3 going into the final inning Sunday evening and just needed to hold the Brock Badgers to a run or less to claim their first-ever Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship.
Clarke was on the mound after striking out two batters. It came down to the third batter. With a two-ball-two-strike count, Clarke threw the pitch, and Brock catcher Will Nicholson swung through, missing the ball.
Laurier won the OUA championship.
The team rushed on the field to meet Clarke for a celebration that meant more than just a win. It was men’s baseball’s first-ever banner, and redemption for a team that just a year ago was suspended four games for a hazing incident and missed the playoffs by one win.
Talk about a comeback.
“If we could have scripted it, that’s how we would have scripted it,” smiled head coach Scott Ballantyne, sporting a soaked shirt after his team poured a jug of water on him in celebration.
The Hawks went 2-0 before meeting Brock in the final, defeating the Badgers in their first meeting of the tournament 5-3 on Friday, and then defeating the Guelph Gryphons earlier on Sunday 3-2 to advance to the final.
Before that, Laurier went 14-8 through the season, only losing two games in their last eight before the championship tournament.
“It’s great. It’s been a long time coming for us,” Ballantyne said, .“I’ve been around this program for 15 years. This has been a really great team [and] this was a really great season. And this weekend we showed we were the best team.”
Everything worked right for the Hawks. Starting fourth-year pitcher Ian Filion and relievers Andrew Ziedens and Clark combined for just four hits allowed and striking out six batters in the final.
With the OUA banner draped around him, Filion spoke highly of his team’s overall performance.
“Bats have been coming around, defence has been playing well [and] pitching has been unbelievable for us,” he said. “Just to be able to piece it all together at this time of the year, finally, as a senior and these other guys here … to piece it together with these guys, it’s absolutely unbelievable.”
After the controversy surrounding a potential hazing incident with the team last year, which garnered national attention in mid-September, the Hawks turned their entire program around.
“After everything we’ve been through, this is the closest group I’ve ever been a part of,” Filion said.
“This is the closest we’ve been. We just won a championship. We just won a championship,” laughed fifth-year outfielder Daniel Murphy.
Murphy was named the championship MVP, finishing the tournament with a .467 batting average and going 3-for-5 in the final. He scored two runs in the game against the Badgers, including the game-winning run. He was also named the Laurier male athlete of the week.
Murphy’s the only member of the team that was around in 2009 when the Hawks made it to the OUA final, where Laurier lost in a series against the Western Mustangs.
“Dan Murphy had a fantastic weekend, especially today, three hits in both games,” Ballantyne said. “He’s a fifth year guy, … and he’s been a great guy for us all year. Lots of leadership from him, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
The Hawks also made an early addition to the squad, adding MLB draft picks Clarke and Jeff Hunt. Their experience was invaluable throughout the season and specifically during the OUA championship tournament.
“Their experience has been huge for our guys,” Ballantyne said. “Jeff, working with a lot of our position players to use his experience, and anytime you can bring in a left-handed pitcher to close two games in one day, and three straight strikeouts in that one, it’s a big plus for us.”
So now, with an OUA banner finally at Laurier, the suspension from 2012 behind them and the OUA/OCAA championships coming up this weekend in St. Catharines, the Hawks have been through it all.
And how do the Hawks describe themselves?
“One family,” the team collectively said.