Dragons ready for another tournament run

PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSH BURKHOLDER/TIFFIN UNIVERSITY Tiffin University baseball players celebrate with the Great-Midwest Athletic Conference Tournament trophy May 11 in Mason. The Dragons will play Ashland in the Division II regional in Kent today.

After winning the Great-Midwest Conference Tournament as a 7 seed and gaining the program’s first berth in the Division II regionals, Tiffin third baseman Jack Dennis was asked what his expectations were for this week.

“Win it,” he said. “Simple.”

The Dragons will enter today’s regional at Kent State as decided underdogs. They are the No. 8 seed, and will take on top-seeded Ashland at 3:30 p.m.

The Dragons played the Eagles twice in the regular season, both times in March. One game was during their spring trip to Florida, the other was hosted by Ashland.

The Eagles won both.

But Tiffin’s players said they’re confident.

And why shouldn’t they be?

Tiffin enters the regional 24-29. But it has won eight of nine games, including a 4-0 record in G-MAC tournament play.

Dragons slugger Jack Heckman said it’s just about keeping the momentum going.

“Timely hitting and timely pitching,” said Heckman, who’s in the midst of a senior season in which he’s hitting .358 with eight homers and 56 RBIs. “Cashing in on those guys on base, and canceling out big innings for the other team, holding them to one or two runs, while we do the opposite and we have the big inning. I think that’s huge for us, and I think we’re very poised to do that.”

The Dragons have been doing that since a regular-season closing doubleheader at Walsh. Tiffin needed to win just to make the postseason.

The Dragons responded with 7-1 and 10-4 wins over the Cavaliers.

“That was kind of like the turning point, as late as it came,” Dennis said. “But guys only realized how good we could play together and when we come together as a family and as a team, we won’t lose.”

And they haven’t. The Dragons got strong hitting and pitching from sophomore Cody Orr, who threw a complete game win against Kentucky Wesleyan in the semifinals, and then turned around the next day, led off, played center and got a few hits.

Orr said that has been important: everyone doing what is needed.

“We had some guys who struggled through the season, and they came up big in the tournament,” said Orr, who has a .414 on base percentage as a hitter and a 5-1 record on the mound. “(TU utility player Aaron Gonzalez) comes off the bench and breaks open the championship game with a home run, (infielder) Colin BeDell, early in the tournament, comes up with a two-out RBI hit that kind of broke open the game as well, so guys stepped up when we needed them.”

Left fielder Brayden Callihan added that the team didn’t allow itself to get caught up in the occasional miscue during the conference tournament.

“I think the key to the tournament was we really didn’t harp on the little things we did wrong,” said Callihan, who is hitting .299 with nine steals. “We stuck to the big plan, and the plan was to win the tournament and play the best ball we can play. I think that we accomplished that very well throughout the tournament.”

Well enough so the Dragons were able to celebrate a tournament championship for the first time in program history.

Heckman said piling on his teammates in the center of the field in Mason was the culmination of a lot of work over the past several years.

“I’m pretty sure I can speak for the seniors here,” he said. “We’ve seen some lows, some real lows in this program in the last couple years. And to do this for this community and the school of Tiffin has been unbelievable. It’s definitely been a highlight in my career so far.”

And now they’re hoping to go even higher.

“Being a younger guy, at the moment, I didn’t even realize that the school had never really won something like (the conference tournament),” he said. “In the moment, I was just more comfortable. I didn’t know we were making history, but now that the tournament’s over and I step back, it’s pretty cool, and I think we can do more. I’m excited to see what happens.”

Dennis, another senior, agreed.

“I think we’ve proven that we’re not scared of anybody,” he said. “We’ve already played Ashland twice this year, and we’ve played them tough both times. So I think — it’s not an invincibility feeling — it’s just a confidence that we know we can win.”