Psychas hits grand slam, ’Berg celebrates title

Student Princes claim first regional championship since 2010, move to super regional

PHOTO COURTESY OF HEIDELBERG SPORTS INFORMATION Heidelberg players celebrate after defeating Adrian for a Division III regional championship Sunday in Adrian, Mich.

Heidelberg had a little bit of a cushion Saturday.

It just didn’t want to use it.

The Student Princes — due to having won their first two games of the Division III regional tournament at Adrian — were in the winners bracket for the championship game Sunday.

That meant that if Heidelberg won the first game against Adrian, it was regional champion. If Adrian won, there would be a second, winner-take-all game for a trip to next week’s super regional.

Heidelberg coach Chad Fitzgerald said he and his players and staff did not want to risk a second game.

“(The Bulldogs) came to the park today with the anticipation of playing two games, and we came with the intention of only playing one,” he said.

Going to the bottom of the sixth inning of Game 1, nothing had been decided. The teams were tied at 5.

But Heidelberg started the sixth by putting pressure on Adrian reliever Spencer Ford. No. 9 Heidelberg hitter started with a bunt single, then Kane Bateman singled to center, sending Hunt to third. Kyle Jenkins then walked to load the bases, bringing up one of Heidelberg’s most fearsome hitters, left fielder Matt Psychas.

“Matt was struggling a little bit up to that point,” Fitzgerald said. “He just wants to compete and win so bad. I just had to tell him to relax and do what he does well, and trust his swing. You could tell he was trying to hit a six-run home run every time he was swinging.”

But this time, the right handed hitter took a pitch and mashed it to right center. The grand slam was his ninth of the season — a team best — and put the Student Princes up 9-5.

“It was great to see him relax,” Fitzgerald said. “He hits the ball well the other way, and just squared one up and did his job.”

It was the deciding shot in Heidelberg’s 9-6 win over Adrian. The victory improved HU to 33-13, and it claimed its first regional title since 2010 — the year Heidelberg reached the Division III World Series.

It was also Fitzgerald’s first tournament title as head coach. He was an assistant on the OAC tournament winning teams from 2008-2010.

“It was just awesome to see those guys get to celebrate, and I’m looking forward to next weekend,” he said.

Tristan Phillips started on the mound for Heidelberg Sunday. He went 4 2/3 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits and two walks. He struck out five.

Mason Metz relieved and picked up the win by going 2 1/3 innings and allowing no runs on three hits.

Then, Fitzgerald turned it over to the back end of his pen: Brady Knizner and Joey Wenning.

It was the third consecutive game the pair have pitched.

Knizner threw in the eighth, allowing a hit but no runs. Wenning recorded the final three outs, allowing a run.

With two outs in the ninth, the Bulldogs had two on, and the tying run at the plate in leadoff hitter Zach Zschering.

But Wenning got Zschering to fly out to right center.

As it had all weekend, the Heidelberg pitching came through.

“We were fortunate enough to get through seven with either our starters, or a starter and one reliever,” Fitzgerald said. “Those guys just competed all week. They threw a lot of strikes, they stuck to our gameplan, how we were trying to attack their guys, and just came through.”

And Heidelberg was able to erase the bad taste of losing the conference tournament finals to Otterbein last week.

“I know this is probably weird to say, but us losing the OAC tournament was probably the best thing that could have happened to us,” Fitzgerald said. “Those guys were devastated to watch Otterbein dogpile on the field. And you could tell when we got back to practice this week that there was just a little bit different level of focus going into the weekend.”

And that focus led to a title.