BY STEVE KRAH
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.
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)
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)