Perfect Ten: Pioneer baseball team clinches division title, to host Midwest Conference Tournament for first time since 2000 | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

Perfect Ten: Pioneer baseball team clinches division title, to host Midwest Conference Tournament for first time since 2000

May 4, 2010

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Much to the delight (and to some, the disbelief) of the Grinnell College baseball community, it became official late Saturday afternoon: the Pioneers are a perfect 10-0 in Midwest Conference play and South Division champions for just the second time ever.  They’ll be hosting the Midwest Conference Tournament beginning on Friday, May 14, and despite what the Chinese calendar might say, the team could not be more confident that this is finally the year of the Pioneer.

On the mound, the Pioneers have arguably the best one-two starting pitching tandem in the history of the program.  Ryan “Don’t touch the” Harris ’10 takes the ball in Game 1 with a 4-1 record, a 2.41 ERA and a K/BB ratio of almost 3:1.  The big lefty from St. Louis will look to do something on May 14 that no Pioneer has ever done before: advance the Pioneers to the winner’s bracket with a Game 1 victory.  Backing him up is Ben Pope ’12, whose numbers are even better at 6-1, 1.39.  He has also finished five of the eight games he has started, and will take the hill in Game 2.

However, no other pitcher with an ERA below 5 has logged a start for the Pioneers this year.  Candidates to take the ball in Game 3, should the Pioneers make it that far, are Chris Peconga ’12, who has logged the most starts of anyone not named Pope or Harris and compiled a 1-3 record with an 8.42 ERA, or David “Have another beer” Platt ’10, who has started just one game but holds a 5.16 ERA and a 1-0 record, both the best on the team among pitchers not named Pope or Harris who have thrown five innings or more.  In addition, closer Chad “You don’t need a bottle opener, that’s a” Christoff10 (2 SV) may be called upon before the ninth inning in a tight ballgame.  As someone who has attended three College World Series and seen his Miami Hurricanes bow out on elimination day all three times, this writer can testify that although two stud pitchers can get you to the dance, it takes more than that to win it all.  It will be very interesting to see who steps up for this Pioneer pitching staff on Day Two of the tournament, when all teams’ Conference starters will be used and games are likely to be much higher-scoring.

On the other side of the ball, the Pioneers are led in nearly all offensive categories by sophomore sensation Mike “Smile and” Nodzenski ’12, whose sizzling .453 batting average and mind-blowing 1.367 OPS makes him an offensive force like no Pioneer lineup has seen since the days of Jason Anderson ’02, whose walk-off grand slam catapulted the Pioneers to their only other South Division championship all the way back in 2001. However, some say Nodzenski is having the greatest season of anyone ever to don the scarlet and black, already with ten round-trippers and the season not over yet.

Hitting right in front of him in the Pioneer lineup is Greg “All Present and Accounted for” Suryn ’11.  Suryn currently owns a torrid .446 batting average and an other-worldly 1.180 OPS while leading the team with four triples.  While his power (2 HR) does not approach Nodzenski’s, one of those home runs will be counted among the most important in the history of Grinnell College baseball.  Suryn’s crucial blow came in the bottom of the eighth inning of the eventual division-clincher, tying the game up and forcing it into extra innings, where the Pioneers eventually won, 10-6, on Nate Pierce ’10’s walk-off grand slam, who two seasons ago was not even wearing a Pioneer uniform.

Finally, no account of the Pioneers’ offensive abilities would be complete without mention of senior Paden “End of the” Roder ’10, whose team-leading total of ten home runs more than justifies his other team-leading total of 23 free passes.  Roder’s uncanny ability to both get on base consistently and find the other side of the wall, along with leadoff hitter Chad Takabuki10’s disruptive power-speed combination (11 XBH, 8 SB) helps this offense strike some serious fear not only into opposing pitchers, but catchers as well.

Regardless of the Pioneers’ chances (and most think they are very real), the alumni response to the team’s achievement has been nothing short of remarkable.

“Congratulations on the two big wins!” said former all-MWC pitcher Gary “Wrath of” Kahn ’09 via facebook all the way from South Africa.  “I know I had nothing to do with it, but I am so proud of this team,” remarked 2003 second-team all-MWC outfielder Peter Leo ’06, currently a Drake University law student. Jim Malewitz ’09, currently in Iowa City studying journalism and author of his blog, the Iowa City Digress, is “stoked beyond belief” to come back and watch the Pioneers vie for their first-ever conference title.

Former All-MWC second-teamer Robbie Unsell ’08 proclaims that “his spirit will be with” the Pioneers as he studies veterinary medicine in London, England.  2008 MWC South Division pitcher of the year Rick “Everybody knows about the” Berdelle ’09 (Clarendon Hills, IL) will be coming to the tournament and is “willing to accept any sleeping accommodations” to watch the Pioneers next weekend.  Golden Sombrero founder and former Pioneer captain Mike Rosenbaum ’08 will be making the trek in from St. Louis, having already taken in a Pioneer doubleheader sweep of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL.  Former Pioneer ace Sam Eaton ’07 (Austin, TX) and all-MWC first-teamers Kevin Byrne ’06 (Chicago, IL) and Baylor dental school first-year Daniel Dee Clark ’08 (Farmington, NM) also may be in attendance to watch the Pioneers make their run at history as part of what will undoubtedly be a raucous crowd come May 14th.

The Pioneers are three games—just 27 innings—away from history, as they’ll look to capture Grinnell’s first-ever Midwest Conference title next weekend on the North Diamond.  And if you can’t make it, that’s no problem whatsoever—2008 first-team all MWC South Division catcher Jim Malewitz ‘09 along with myself, Justin Abramson ’08, the one-time voice of Pioneer athletics, will have the call for you for Midwest Conference Television, with coverage starting ten minutes before first pitch.  You can catch all the action at www.pennatlantic.com.

So come on out to the ballpark with us for the Midwest Conference tournament!  From Honolulu, Hawaii all the way to Durbanville, South Africa, Pioneer baseball fever has struck the globe, and the only cure may be a conference championship.  The Pioneers lit the fire this fall as they do every year, and while sometimes that fire is nothing but a few glowing embers after the first week of May, there is no doubt now that it will be a roaring blaze at the North Diamond come tournament time.

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