Given the price of gasoline, now wouldn’t seem the ideal time for Franklin College baseball to be playing nothing but road games.
Travel costs aside, though, it seems to be working.
With renovations to the Grizzlies’ baseball facility requiring more time than initially anticipated, coach Lance Marshall’s ball club has played every one of its 40 games this season away from campus.
The diamonds on which they’ve been the designated home team include four Indianapolis-area high schools — Center Grove, Bishop Chatard, Cascade and Beech Grove — along with Grand Park in Westfield and Kokomo’s 4,000-seat Municipal Stadium.
By the time the regular-season dust cleared, Franklin College held a 28-12 record and was atop the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings with a 13-5 league mark.
The HCAC tournament begins Thursday in Kokomo with the Grizzlies seeded first and set face the winner of the Anderson-Hanover game at 6:30 p.m. Earlham and Rose-Hulman round out the five-team field for the double-elimination tourney.
“We talked at the beginning of the year of having a road warriors mentality,” Marshall said. “I think it’s ultimately made us tougher and ready to compete against anyone. The best thing about this group is that they’ve been absolutely resilient and tough. They’ve won games by getting the lead and expanding it, and also by overcoming significant deficits.”
Marshall references a mid-April game at Center Grove against Manchester in which the Spartans led, 7-1, going into the bottom of the eighth inning. The Grizzlies scored five runs in the eighth, tacked on another in the ninth and two more in the 10th to win, 9-8.
Last weekend, the Grizzlies won the HCAC regular season title with a pair of victories at Hanover, 11-6 and 9-6. Eighteen of the team’s 20 runs that day were scored in the fifth inning or later, another example of its ability to become more dangerous as a game wears on.
“Obviously, you want to be at home, but it is kind of fun to play in some of the places we’ve played,” senior catcher Logan Demkovich said. “Center Grove is really nice, and Kokomo is kind of like Grand Park, only a little smaller. And our fans have been really good in terms of support.”
These are hardly unchartered waters for Marshall’s program.
In 2018, Franklin College pieced together a 39-5 season that resulted in a trip to the NCAA Central Regional in Sauget, Illinois. The following season again ended with another regional appearance, this time in Seguin, Texas, and a 31-15 record.
This marks the sixth consecutive winning campaign for the program, including the COVID-abbreviated 2020 season in which Franklin College won five of eight games.
Last season’s 25-14 club didn’t manage to get out of the conference tourney, giving current Grizzlies players plenty of motivation this time around.
“We knew we had a lot of new faces and had some development and growth that had to take place,” Marshall said.
He’s been more than satisfied with the results.
Individually, sophomore AJ Sanders established a new single-season school record in stolen bases with 27. Senior pitcher Alex Reinoehl has placed his name in the record book with 10 saves, while Demkovich raised the bar in single-season home runs (19) and RBI (61).
Others enjoying banner campaigns are junior Tysen Lipscomb (.348, 10 doubles), soph outfielder Sean Sullivan (.321, 22 steals) and freshman infielder Matt Earley (.331, 13 doubles).
Senior Nick McClanahan (5-0, 3.02 earned run average) is the ace of the pitching staff with Reinoehl there to close when needed. In between, the Grizzlies can utilize the talents of many pitchers, including Center Grove products Jackson Young and Chris Foote. Junior Tyler Wick, a Whiteland alum, is also an option.