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History on hold as Wayne State baseball stumbles in NCAA regional opener

Detroit — It all seemed to be coming together.

While hosting an NCAA postseason game for the first time in program history, No. 21 Wayne State on Thursday was six outs away from tying a single-season program record in wins at Harwell Field.

Then the wheels fell off.

Walsh University exploded for a five-run eighth inning to hang a thick cloud of disappointment in the air and send Wayne State to the loser’s bracket with a final score of 6-3 in an NCAA Division II Midwest Regional #2 opener.

That’s baseball for ya. 

Wayne State (35-18) will look to save its season and tie the record at Harwell Field against Ashland on Friday at 11 a.m. 

“We need to bounce back and get back to work tomorrow. We’ve got a veteran team, we’ve lost baseball games before, and we should know how to make adjustments,” Wayne State coach Ryan Kelley said. “(We have) some baseball student-athletes that have been on this program for a long time, they dealt with the pandemic, they’ve dealt with success, they’ve dealt with adversity. 

“(They’re) some of the best leaders within the baseball program we’ve had for a long time.”

GLIAC pitcher of the year Ryan Korolden was dominant through seven innings to kick off the Midwest Regional No. 2 opening round for Wayne State. He’d struck out 12 and given up just four hits and one run. 

The guy on the other mound was pretty good, too. Brant Alazaus also pitched seven innings, giving up six hits and three runs with 10 strikeouts and no walks. 

But Korolden gave up two doubles to start the eighth, reliever Chad Sommers gave up another to his first batter, and after a sacrifice fly gave Walsh its first lead, a two-run shot from Austin Marko over the “Green Monster” in left field put a stamp on the comeback.

“Ryan’s been very consistent all year,” Kelley said. “He pitched in some big situation this game — runners on base, he got some big strikeouts in key situations, made some effective pitches where they put the ball in play and our guys made plays defensively. Bottom line is, he pitched well enough for us to win, and we need to push more runs across.”

Jacob Finkbeiner had two hits and scored a run, Brett Zimmerman one hit and one run and Noah Miller had an inside-the-park home run (off a throwing error)

While Kelley can appreciate the intensity of his team’s effort, he also added that they need to “find a way to win one pitch at a time, staying focused.”

“You can’t play baseball with so much intensity that you can’t execute what you’re trying to do offensively and defensively or base-running,” Kelley said.

Walsh’s Jarret Lyon, who finished with two hits and two runs, cleared the “Green Monster” in left center with a solo home run that cut Wayne State’s lead in half to start the fourth.

Junior outfielder Jacoby Dale pushed Wayne State’s lead back to two runs with a one-out RBI single in the seventh, but the party didn’t last long. By the time Wayne State returned to the plate, they were facing a three-run deficit.

To advance through the double-elimination regional in which it entered as the highest seed, Wayne State now must win four games over the next three days. That task is certainly daunting. As to whether it’ll be easier or harder with the home-field advantage, Kelley is still unsure. This is uncharted territory.

“We are used to playing on the road in different ballparks in postseason play,” Kelley said. “So it is another part of the challenge, but it’s a welcome challenge.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.