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Franklin College enjoys deepest playoff run in program history

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Franklin College came on strong at the end of the 2019 baseball season and the Grizzlies came within six outs of going to the NCAA Division III super regionals.

After a 13-10 start, Franklin finished 31-15 and forced a second championship game in regional play in Sequin, Texas.

“We’re just very of our guys,” says Grizzlies coach Lance Marshall of his student-athletes. “They did their best when it mattered most.

“It’s just a tough, resilient group. The seniors are great leaders and great players.”

Franklin went 3-2 in Texas, besting No. 4-ranked Trinity (Texas) twice and going 1-2 against No. 25 Concordia (Texas). The Tornados scored four runs in the last two innings to win.

“We got shipped to the toughest regional in the country,” says Marshall, noting that No. 16 Texas Lutheran was also part of the field.

It was the deepest run the Grizzlies have ever made in the playoffs. In their previous NCAA D-III playoff appearances (2011 and 2018), they went 1-2 in the regional with wins against Frostburg State (Md.) in Marietta, Ohio, and Thomas More (Ky.) in Sauget, Ill. Losses came to eventual national champions Marietta in 2011 and Texas-Tyler in 2018.

Marshall, who just finished his 22nd season as FC head coach, credited senior shortstop Sam Claycamp (Columbus East High School graduate) and senior first baseman Drew Naumovich (Roncalli) for their leadership roles.

“They led by example — on and off the field,” says Marshall of Claycamp and Naumovich. “They brought great energy, were positive and respected by teammates.”

Claycamp (.400, 4 home runs and 48 runs batted in) and Naumovich (.356-5-36 with 12 stolen bases) were offensive leaders in a lineup that also featured junior center fielder Quenton Wellington (.348-5-41 with 23 steals) and junior right fielder Ryan Bixler (.307-10-55 with 13 steals).

A deep pitching staff filled with right-handers had seniors Jordan Clark (4-0, 3.31 earned run average) and Aaron Leming (7-3, 4.19) as starters with seniors Nate Stonebraker (6-4, 8 saves, 5.36) as closer with strong contributions from senior Tanner Nicholson (1-0, 2 saves, 1.88), Ben Sprinkle (5-1, 1 save, 6.29), sophomore Krae Sparks (2-4, 4.88) and freshman Nick Elmendorf (1-2, 4.97).

On a roster with just four players with hometowns outside Indiana, Wellington (Bishop Chatard), Bixler (Lewis Cass), Clark (Connersville), Stonebraker (Cascade), Nicholson (Greencastle), Sprinkle (Franklin Central), Sparks (Greenwood Christian) and Elmendorf (Indianapolis North Central) all played high school ball on Hoosier soil.

Claycamp, Naumovich and Bixler made the all-HCAC first team. Sprinkle was named to the Christopher M. Ragsdale Sportsmanship Team.

And the cupboard’s not bare for 2020.

“We’ve got a really good group of underclassmen returning,” says Marshall. “They’ve got experience on their side going forward.

“We’ll keep working hard and do everything we can to get back into the postseason.”

Franklin earned an automatic 2019 NCAA regional berth by winning the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. The Griz topped Anderson 6-4 and Rose-Hulman 7-2 and 9-8 at Art Nehf Field in Terre Haute for the championship. FC repeated as HCAC tourney champs on a walk-off Wellington’s two-out, RBI single.

“We were fortunate to come out with a tournament championship,” says Marshall. “Coach (Jeff) Jenkins runs a great program at Rose. They’re always a formidable opponent.”

Franklin went 12-6 in HCAC regular-season action.

Marshall’s two assistant coaches for 2019 were hired in January.

“They did a fantastic job in a short period of time,” says Marshall of Tim Miller (who came from Frosburg State) and Tyler Rubasky (who came from Waynesburg State in Pennsylvania).

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Senior first baseman Drew Naumovich hit .356 with five home runs and and 36 runs batted in for Franklin (Ind.) College in 2019. The Grizzlies made their deepest run into the playoffs, reaching the second regional championship game and finishing 31-15. (Mike Lanke/Franklin College Photo)

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Senior shortstop Sam Claycamp hit .400 with four home runs and and 48 runs batted in for Franklin (Ind.) College in 2019. The Grizzlies made their deepest run into the playoffs, reaching the second regional championship game and finishing 31-15. (Mike Lanke/Franklin College Photo)

 

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Rose-Hulman baseball’s Jenkins embraces ‘D-III life’

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

While so many would-be college baseball players chase the athletic scholarship, this is not the case at the NCAA Division III level.

Scholarships at D-III are strictly for academics.

“Athletic ability gets them nothing,” says Jeff Jenkins, head baseball coach for 28 years and athletic director for 15 at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. “(Baseball or other athletic teams) have no say in that whatsoever.

“That’s the D-III life. Kids are doing it for the pure love of the game.”

Jenkins, an Urbana, Ohio, native is well-versed in the culture after playing at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio, and coaching at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio, and Bethany (W.Va.) College — all D-III institutions — before landing in Terre Haute.

It’s all about the studies at Rose, an elite engineering school. Many classes meet until 5:10 p.m. and all the school’s outdoor facilities — including baseball’s Art Nehf Field — are lighted to accommodate late practices and games.

With breaks, weekend games and weekday night games, Jenkins expects his Fightin’ Engineers to miss only 1 1/2 days of classes the entire 2017 season because of two Heartland College Athletic Conference road games.

By rule, coaches are not allowed to have out-of-season contact with players. Teams have to get fall practices (with one contest date of up to 18 innings) and 40 varsity spring games in 19 total weeks (Rose will also have about 20 “split squad” or junior varsity games this spring).

“Some coaches might be in their office going through withdrawal pains,” says Jenkins, who notes that D-III does not present the off-season requirements that face scholarship-carrying athletes.

“We can suggest things they can do to be better players,” says Jenkins. “But the onus is on them. If they want to win, they’re going to do things in the off-season. Our kids are very smart, but they still want to win.”

RHIT has done so on a regular basis. Since Jenkins’ first Rose team in 1990, the Engineers have played in seven D-III tournaments (making the deepest runs in 2014 and 2016 by reaching the Central Regional championship round), won six conference tournament titles and claimed four regular-season championships. This has been achieved in a division that includes private schools like Rose-Hulman with an enrollment around 2,300 and state colleges with several times the number of students all vying for a chance to play in the eight-team D-III World Series in Appleton, Wis.

With the tough academic standards and no athletic scholarships to offer, RHIT has to throw a wider recruiting net, searching coast to coast for players. Of the 43 players on the current roster, four are from Colorado and three from California. Besides these and the 15 from Indiana, nine other states are represented.

“We’ve found our niche,” says Jenkins, whose assistant coach Sean Bendel is in his 19th season. “We’ve won because we’ve found good players who find the time to be successful. We have very nice facilities.”

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