By ANDY WOLF
“Big dawgs” gotta eat.
So says the University of Findlay baseball team.
The Oilers carried the mantra with them since opening day and have qualified for the postseason for the first time in 10 years.
Findlay (22-15) will face Kentucky Wesleyan (27-19) at 1:30 p.m. today in the opening round of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference tournament at Prasco Park in Mason. The double-elimination tournament concludes Saturday.
“We have a good personality. We like to call ourselves ‘the big dawgs,’” senior Troy Merriman said. “It came from one of the guys on the team; Nic Varda, he started it out.”
The Oilers finished fourth in the GMAC North Division, and aren’t the tournament’s top dogs. Considering UF’s decade-long absence from the postseason, they’re content just to be in the pack.
And where there’s a dog, of course there’s a bone.
“We actually got a giant dog bone that we put on a big chain so if somebody gets a big hit or even pitchers if they have a big pitch or a good inning. Everyone gets kind of hyped,” Merriman said.
The excitement of tournament time has the Oilers honed in mentally and not shying away from the challenge.
The never-say-die attitude has always been there.
Fifth-year coach Stephen Perrill demanded it out of his players the day he took over.
But early on, he felt they had nothing to show for it.
UF won 12 games in each of his first two seasons while suffering through 69 losses.
The improvements kept coming with a 17-28 mark in 2016 to 18-27 last season.
“We’ve seen the lowest of lows and now we’ve seen the highest of highs,” Merriman said. “When Coach Perrill recruited me back in high school, he told me it’s going to be a process. (He said) if you want to get on this boat and be a part of this process, I promise it’s going to pay off in the long run.”
Merriman is one of 11 seniors on the team. But the contributions come from all grades.
“When no one cares who gets the credit, it’s going to be a great situation,” Parrill said.
The lineup hits at a .269 team average and scores 5.6 runs per game.
Parrill sees versatility as a strength of the offense, and Merriman cited the team’s ability to get hits in bunches.
Junior Derrick Herd (.320 BA, 21 RBI), sophomore Casey Gould (.321, 24 RBI) and freshman Ethan St. Clair (.323, 19 RBI) all hit over .300 while Varda, a junior, is tied for the team-lead with 24 RBIs.
“We have some guys who can really run; I am not one of them,” Merriman said with a laugh.
Merriman is hitting .293 and fellow four-year senior Josh Schwerer bats .250. Freshmen Tyler Burley (.280) and Ryan O’Malley (.226) each have 14 RBIs.
Meanwhile, UF’s pitching staff is 51st nationally among Division II schools with a 4.37 earned run average.
Parrill already decided on senior Colin Gossard as his starter against KWC.
He hopes Gossard (5-1, 3.69 ERA) can set a positive tone for the tournament as he’s done all season long.
Gossard needs 12 strikeouts to become UF’s all-time strikeout king. Greg Otto (1987-90) holds the record with 220 punchouts.
UF is without one of its other work horses in junior Mark Delas — a preseason all-region pick — who has been out since March 18 with a forearm strain.
Over the past two seasons, Delas (3.85 career ERA) logged 51 and 52 innings in 21 appearances with 114 total strikeouts.
Outside of Gossard, eight other players have made multiple starts.
“It seems like every time we’ve handed (the ball) to a different person, they’ve stepped up,” Parrill said.
Liberty-Benton grad and junior Alex Harter (4-3, 3.79) has made seven starts, senior Cory Carl (1-3, 5.22) has logged five and senior Alexander Theiss (1-3, 4.18) has four starts this season.
True freshman Jordan Bekier (3-0, 4.79) has only three starts but is third in the team with 352/3 innings logged.
Josh Robinson (2-2, 3.27) also set the GMAC record for saves in a season with 11.
“I could put our pitching staff against anyone in the GMAC,” Harter said. “We have the starting rotation, the back end of the bullpen to do everything we needed to do. It’s going to take us far.”
Baseball: Oilers in postseason for first time since 2018
By ANDY WOLF