HU is back in World Series on talent, confidence and work ethic

It’s been nine years since Heidelberg made the Division III World Series.

None of the players from that team remain, obviously. Only one member of that coaching staff is still there.

That’s Heidelberg head coach Chad Fitzgerald, who was an assistant on the 2010 squad.

It’s a different cast, a different team, and even a different setting than it was back then. In 2010, Heidelberg celebrated its long coveted trip to the World Series by piling on each other after a regional at arch rival Marietta. That season, Heidelberg could do no wrong. It was ranked in the top 10. It won the regular season Ohio Athletic Conference championship, then breezed through the conference tournament and the regionals without even losing a game.

They had stars like Ricardo Lizcano, who would go on to play minor league ball with the St. Louis Cardinals. They had a brilliant catcher and team leader in Steve Decker.

And a clutch reliever in Andy Lowe.

But also, 2010 was the culmination of successful run after a series of near-misses. Heidelberg was two outs away from the World Series in 2008 before getting stunned by Adrian. It also fell in the regional the next season after cruising to a conference and tournament title.

But this year is different. Heidelberg hadn’t even been to the conference tournament since 2015. It was only ranked briefly this season in Division III’s Top 25. It shared the conference title, but didn’t host the tournament, and didn’t win it.

And yet, due to a 29-12 mark, Heidelberg got an at-large bid to the regional in Adrian. It swept through it.

And the last two days against Wooster, Heidelberg has looked the part of a Division III superpower.

Fitzgerald was asked what the similarities were between the 2010 and 2019 squads.

“They’re just hard-nosed, blue-collar dudes,” Fitzgerald said. “They just want to go out and want to compete. They’re not just happy to be here.”

Still, there are some similarities. Like the 2010 team, Heidelberg has a strong bullpen. It was on display this weekend, when the ‘Berg relievers threw eight scoreless innings, and only allowed one hit.

Heidelberg used four relievers in the series: Clyde graduate Cayden Rollins, sophomore hurler Mason Metz, setup man Brady Knizner and the stopper, senior Joey Wenning.

Wenning is a senior. Metz is a sophomore. The other two are freshmen.

“I think every guy in the bullpen is different as well, has their own different mantra on the mound,” Wenning said. “I’m trying to, me, myself, mentor guys like Brady Knizner and Mason Metz, coming into big roles, and obviously Cayden (Rollins) threw really well, and Tristan (Phillips) … up and down the line, just mentally preparing the bullpen and learning from each other.”

And like any championship contender, Heidelberg has a couple of strong starting pitchers in Alex Sir Louis and Trevor Adkins.

Adkins threw six solid innings in the clincher Saturday.

“Any time Alex or Trevor are out there, you know you’re going to get six or seven really strong innings,” Wenning said. “You’ve just got to be prepared to get the ball in the eighth and ninth, and shut the door. I’m really proud of those guys, especially Alex and Trevor, for setting us up so successfully.”

The thing that impresses me so much about this team is its confidence. The 2010 team was oozing with it, which at the time I attributed to how much winning those guys had done.

But it’s not that way this year.

Many of the position players are starters for the first time.

So where does the confidence come from?

“It didn’t start today,” Fitzgerald said. “It started in September when we started Fall Ball. You could tell, because we had, like, two starters returning from last year. All of these guys have kind of waited their turn. They were ready, and they took advantage of it. It’s just a work ethic that’s unspeakable, and I’m very, very proud of them.”

The World Series will be new to the players, but not to Fitzgerald. He went as a pitcher with Seton Hill before going as a Heidelberg assistant.

And the coach stressed that what has been working will continue to work at Division III’s highest level.

“It’s still 90 feet between the bases and 60 feet, six inches (to the mound), and there’s eight teams left in the country still playing,” Fitzgerald said. “Go do what we do, and play how we play. You can’t make the moment bigger than what the moment is. Just go and play the game. We’ll get a good week of practice in and we’ll be ready.”

The World Series is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with the schedule still yet to be determined. But Fitzgerald sounded confident in his team.

It sounds like everything is clicking.

“You can’t teach these moments,” Fitzgerald said. “I was having a conversation with somebody yesterday at dinner. It’s funny, when you have teams like this, it’s like the bond between everybody — not just the players– but the staff, the community, you can’t replicate them. They just kind of happen. You just have to enjoy the ride. You can’t prepare for it, you can try your best to prepare for it, but you’ve just got to make the moments count when they come.”

And there will be plenty more big moments in the next week.

But the players are used to that.

“It’s a crazy journey you go through, all the ups and downs through practice, and bashing heads at different scenarios,” Wenning said. “But then when it comes down to it, between the lines, it’s just getting the job done.”

So far, Heidelberg has gotten the job done.

Zach Baker is the sports editor for The Advertiser-Tribune.

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