Marietta, Ohio - May 22, 2010 - Heidelberg coach Matt Palm said he'll spend the evening celebrating the Student Princes' first-ever berth in the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships with his immediate family.
Just moments after Heidelberg (40-6) finished off a 6-2 victory over Ohio Athletic Conference rival Marietta in the Mideast Regional on Saturday (May 22, 2010), Palm celebrated with his extended family.
"There's been a lot of young men, a lot of families, a lot assistant coaches and great support from our administration that have made this possible," Palm said. "A lot of those players who started with me when I first got here and even recent graduates were here today. That is really special."
"We didn't say much after the game, but we just hugged and I congratulated him," said Decker, who is the older brother of Heidelberg catcher Steve Decker. "That's the first thing he said to me when he saw me was that all of the past players have a part in this."
Matt said it was the family atmosphere at Heidelberg that drew him to the program, and he felt it again Saturday.
"We had several past players here and my phone was blowing up afterward with texts," he said.
Palm said getting over the regional obstacle is something that can change the face of a program.
"You watch Marietta play in the regional setting and they just go out and play and I think that's because they've been to the Series. Every time you take that next step the step beneath it becomes easier," said Palm, the OAC Coach of the Year. "They don't have that fear of losing here. By making the statement we did today, not only beating Marietta, but Marietta at this place, is huge for us."
It was also a big day for junior pitcher Andy Lowe, who tossed the final three innings for his 12th save of the season.
Just two years ago, Lowe was on the mound in Terre Haute, Ind., in the ninth inning of the regional final. Leading 7-5, Lowe gave up three runs to Adrian and the Student Princes were denied a trip to Wisconsin.
"Not this time. This time I was going to get it done," said Lowe, the Mideast Regional Most Outstanding Player. "No one can say that to me any more."
While he was confident, Lowe acknowledged that Marietta is the type of team that could rally from four down in the ninth.
"When you get a four-run lead against Marietta it may not be enough."
However, Marietta's bats were pretty much silenced after the first inning. Heidelberg starter Nathan James (7-2) gave up a solo home run to Britt Meador to start the game and Casey Levens doubled home another run to give the Pioneers an early 2-0 lead.
James regrouped and allowed just three more hits over the next five innings.
"I needed to get into a groove. I had a little trouble the last time I pitched here," said James, who tossed two innings and allowed five hits and five runs in an 11-8 loss to Marietta on April 17.
The Student Princes have now defeated Marietta in four straight.
The Pioneers (36-13) won't get a shot at a fifth national championship, but coach Brian Brewer said he liked the way his players battled from a first-round loss to make the finals.
"The loss in the first round really hurt, but from there we played really well. The town and crowd gave us a little lift. … We rallied around each other," he said. "It was a great season, but not exactly where we want to be. For the seniors it was a great career. We're certainly appreciative of that."
Marietta starter Austin Blaski, who returned to the mound on two days rest, took the loss to fall to 9-4 on the season. Braden Park went 2-for-3, while Dan Jones had a single.
"As a senior going out there and giving it your all and everything you got. Toward the end of the season we talked to all of the guys about how we played," said Jones, a senior. "Everyone bought in and going out there and playing baseball the way we do here. Great to see younger guys follow and come through."
Jason Lash led Heidelberg's offense with a 3-for-4 day, including two doubles and three RBI.
"We were close our freshman year and last year. … We said we wanted to win the regional, but that's not all. We want to win the World Series too," Lash said. "Now we have to begin a new season. This is for everybody who has been a part of our program."
Heidelberg arrives in Grand Chute, Wis., for the championship tournament ranked second in the nation and riding a 17-game winning streak that dates back to April 17 when the Student Princes bested Marietta at Don Schaly Stadium in the second game of a doubleheader, 15-14.
Thomas More—Nick Zeiser, catcher
Adrian—Alex Cowart, outfield
Penn State-Behrend—Jonathan Gray, outfield; Ryan Zamiskie, pitcher
Marietta—Brian Gasser, pitcher; John Snyder, outfield; Casey Levens, utility
Heidelberg—Alex Monroe, outfield; Jason Lash, shortstop; Steve Decker, catcher; Andy Lowe, pitcher
Most Outstanding Player—Andy Lowe, Heidelberg