A rough season ended on a high note for the Bay College baseball team on Saturday as the Norse finished with a pair of victories over the Minnesota Post-Grad Academy, 6-3, and-6-2, on a cloudy but dry afternoon at the Wells Sports Complex fields.
For a team that had won just seven of 38 games this season, it was one last chance to be together on Commencement Day at Bay College. And despite that season record, the guys came to play, especially the sophomores who knew they’d be playing their last games in the Green and White uniforms.
“That’s where I think we’re succeeding as a program,” Norse Coach Mike Pankow said. “We’re creating that atmosphere. Guys want to be here, the guys enjoy being here, and we give them a good experience. I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
One of them was Xavier Whittle, a Canadian who is in his third year with the Norse thanks to the extra year of eligibility granted by the NJCAA amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And Whittle finished in grand style on Saturday, nearly throwing a no-hitter on the mound and getting two hits and driving in three runs in the 6-2 win in the season- ending nightcap.
“I just knew that this was the last time out, the last time that I was going to pitch for this team, and I really loved the opportunity that I got from them,” Whittle said. “It’s hard to put into words right now, since it’s the end of it. All us sophomores, we really bonded for the two years. It’s a shame that we have to go now. But it’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
Whittle was in control all afternoon against the Minnesota boys, who have all gradated high school and at this baseball academy that has a tradition of producing college baseball recruits. Whittle allowed only two baserunners over six innings: a grounder in the second inning that was misplayed at first base (although some GameChanger books had it as a hit) and a hit-batter in the third inning.
Whittle did not issue a walk until the seventh inning, when he walked Anthony Celar to start the inning. The next batter, Blake Eckman, rocked a towering home run to left field, breaking not only the no-hitter but also the shutout. It was Eckman’s fourth home run on the weekend, after he hit one on Friday and also smacked two home runs in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
“It was a fastball,” Whittle said. “I was thinking, like, should we go curve ball? But I was like, you know what? If I’m gonna beat guys, if I’m gonna beat anyone, I gotta deal with my best, you know? If it’s first pitch fastball, it’s first pitch fastball. He saw a first ball fastball and it went out.”
Whittle recovered to get the next three outs on two pop flies and a called third strike, just his fourth strikeout of the game. But it sealed the deal on what was one of his best mound performances in a Norse uniform over the last three years.
“This was my last chance to put in a really good workout,” Whittle said. “I was thinking, like this is gonna be it, I’m gonna throw everything right, I’m gonna make sure everything is on command, and where I am now, only one hit, that felt good.”
Bay took advantage of wild pitches, walks, and errors in both games.
In the first game, the only Norse RBI were on a ground out by sophomore Hector Araguyan (as fellow sophomore and Superior Central alumnus Parker Maki scored on a head-first slide), and freshman Zac Gomersall foul fly ball to right field brought in another run.
In the second game, Whittle helped his own cause with an RBI single in the first inning, Dylan Kragelka’s bases loaded walk scored another, and Whittle doubled home another run in the fourth inning. Post Grad literally got all five of its runs in the doubleheader on the three home runs off the bat of Eckmann.
Handley says it was good to see runs on the board early in the game.
“It gave me a little bit of leeway to work with their batters,” Handley said. “Honestly, for me, the score doesn’t matter too much. I’m still gonna go out there and give it 110 percent. But it did feel good to go out there and have some leeway.”
In the second game, Justice Knight started and pitched into the fourth inning for the visitors, giving up six runs (four earned) on five hits and six walks. Diego Aguines threw the final three innings allowed no runs on two base hits.
Bay College finished its season with a 9-31 record.
“It’s special that these guys wanted to come back,” Pankow said of his sophomores, including five guys who were at Bay for three years. “A couple of them had opportunities to go elsewhere last year, and they wanted to come back. They wanted to be a part of this. It’s a great atmosphere and they’re great together. That’s what I’m proud of and very rewarding for me.”