For six innings, Waynesburg University’s return to the Presidents’ Athletic Conference playoffs was almost perfect.
Entering the bottom of the seventh of their day one game, the third-seeded Yellow Jackets led Grove City, 9-2.
No PAC team had come back from such a deficit in the postseason since 2008.
If that wasn’t enough assurance for Waynesburg, it’s ace pitcher—arguably the best in the conference—was on the mound in junior Mason Miller.
By the end of the frame, however, Grove City had turned a seven-run deficit into a three-run lead.
The Wolverines drew two walks to start the inning, chasing Miller. It took three Jacket relievers to get three outs, and by the time the final out came, Grove City had put up 10 runs. The second-seeded Wolverines added three more in the eighth inning and survived two Waynesburg strikes in the ninth, holding on for a 15-11 win.
So come Friday afternoon, instead of playing against top-seeded and host Washington & Jefferson in the winner’s portion of the double-elimination tournament, the Yellow Jackets instead had their season on the line against fourth-seeded Bethany. Despite putting up nine runs on 20 hits, Waynesburg’s season came to an end with a 12-9 loss to the Bison.
“I thought our guys came to play,” head coach Mike Humiston said, “And I thought that they put us in positions to win [both games]. But it was not meant to be.”
Similar to the day before, the Jackets drew first blood, scoring two runs in the top of the first. After junior second baseman Justin Buberl led off with a single, senior center fielder Mitch Nordstrom drove him home with a triple for the game’s first run. One out later, freshman catcher Tyler Woodrow grounded out to the right side, scoring Nordstrom to make it 2-0. Buberl finished the day going 4-6, and Nordstrom 4-5 with a walk. The two combined to score four runs and drive in two more.
The Bison, however, responded with five runs in the bottom half of the inning.
Sophomore designated hitter Kevin Roach, junior catcher Ryan Anselmino and senior third baseman Tyler Frazee each had RBI doubles. Anselmino and Frazee each went 3-5.
All five runs were charged to Waynesburg’s starter, junior Johnny Kutchman (0-4), who only got one out before his day was over. Senior Ty Wickline was the first of four Yellow Jacket relievers. After getting the last two outs of the first, Wickline gave up an RBI single to Anselmino in the second to make it 6-2. He lasted 3.2 innings in relief and game up five runs, all earned.
While the Jackets responded with a run of their own in their half of the third, Bethany pushed the lead back to four in the fourth with a single by sophomore shortstop Kyle Goodwin, which scored senior first baseman Neil Woods. Woods came up big in Bethany’s next at-bat, smacking a two-run double to extend the lead to six. The Bison added another run that inning to make the score 10-3.
Just the day before, it was Waynesburg who had a seven-run advantage late in a playoff game. Now, the roles were reversed, and for senior outfielder Tyler Godwin, this fired up the team.
“I think really more than anything, it was more motivation,” he said. “We definitely talked a lot as a team after [Grove City] about how we could avoid that happening again… sure enough, we scrapped away and we knocked a couple of runs in here and there.”
The Jackets began to chip away with two runs in the sixth. Then, in the top of the eighth, sophomore Tyler Srbinovich—who started the game in right field but came in to pitch with one out in the seventh—singled in Nordstrom to cut the deficit to four. One batter later, sophomore Carter Uzzell drove home Godwin and sent Srbinovich to third with a double, making it 10-7. Uzzell and Srbinovich both came in to score on a single by junior first baseman Jordan Kowalski, who capped off a 2-3 day and cut the deficit to just one.
In the bottom half of the eighth, Waynesburg couldn’t keep the Bison in check. With the bases loaded, two outs and senior center fielder Brandon Wagner at the plate, an error by third baseman Tyler Reis scored two runs and gave Bethany insurance.
The Jackets season ended in the next half inning when Nordstrom was thrown out at third on a double by Godwin.
For Bethany, junior Isaac Wengert (6-2) got the win, allowing five runs on 12 hits over six, and junior Tim Reinhard picked up the save after throwing a scoreless ninth.
Waynesburg’s offense put up a combined 20 runs and 35 hits over the tournament, outhitting its opponent on both occasions. For Miller, who finished the season as the PAC’s leader in most significant pitching categories, the Jackets staff didn’t compliment the team’s offensive success in the postseason.
“Speaking from a pitching standpoint, we definitely didn’t do the best that we could have done,” Miller said. “It’s a shame to see us put up a combined 20 runs in two games and lose both games. That’s not something that we’re used to seeing this year, and I think that made [the losses] a little tougher to swallow too.”
Godwin took a more positive approach, saying that, except for from a few unfortunate bounces, Waynesburg did what it had to do on both sides to win.
“Aside from a couple of innings here and there, our pitching was on point for the most part too,” he said. “Just a couple of hiccups here and there [cost us], and sometimes that’s just how baseball goes.”
Miller and Buberl will be among those back for the Jackets in 2020, while Godwin and Reis, who were both starters as freshmen, are among nine seniors who have graduated. Godwin hopes to be remembered for the example he and his classmates set on the field, behind the scenes and in the classroom.
“[Reis and I] might have been the only two that contributed all four years, but we got big contributions from pretty much all nine [seniors] at different points throughout their careers here,” Godwin said. “I just hope that the underclassmen can take what we did as baseball players, as leaders, as students even from an academic standpoint. Just what we were able to get done in all aspects, and kind of use that for themselves and make the most out of that.”
Despite falling short of playoff glory, the Yellow Jackets reached the tournament which was something they hadn’t done since 2015, the year before the departed seniors arrived on campus. In addition, Waynesburg finished with a 21-19 record, doubling its win total from a year ago. For Humiston, the 2019 campaign was, unquestionably, a successful one.
“When you compare this year to last year, anything is a success,” Humiston said. “Anything over 10 wins is a success. We doubled that output, had an opportunity to showcase some of our talent in the conference tournament [and] played some good teams. That’s what the postseason is all about is the four best teams in the conference. I thought we were one of them.”