Baseball Gets Front-Row Seats for CC Playoffs

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
 

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Brett Rosen and his Muhlenberg baseball teammates have always had to watch the Centennial Conference playoffs from home. With their postseason hopes resting on the results of other games last Sunday, that’s exactly where the catcher and his six fellow seniors were – except this time, their season wasn’t necessarily over.

John Scuderi
Scuderi was one of three Mules to reach double figures in doubles with 11. He also leads the team in slugging percentage (.545) and on-base percentage (.430).
“We were all glued to the computer screen,” said Rosen, who monitored one of the all-important games with his classmates at their house. “We kept refreshing it over and over again. [Gettysburg] didn’t have a video feed, so we listened to the radio and we went crazy with every pitch.”

After the last one, they went even crazier. Especially considering the result meant the Mules will watch the postseason from the best seats in the house: the ones in the dugout.

“We all started hugging each other,” Rosen said, recalling the moment when Gettysburg defeated McDaniel to send the Mules to the playoffs. “It’s been way too long.”

Six years, to be exact. Rosen and his classmates weren’t around for Muhlenberg’s last postseason appearance in 2008, so a more appropriate number, perhaps, is two. That’s the number of seasons it took for the Mules to transform from a last-place team into a playoff qualifier.

Muhlenberg, which earned the third seed, is scheduled to begin its long-awaited journey tomorrow at second-seeded Haverford in the first game of the double-elimination tournament. Fourth-seeded Hopkins is at regular-season champion Gettysburg, with the rest of the tournament to unfold Saturday and Sunday in Gettysburg.

“It is awesome,” Rosen said of the Mules’ turnaround. “We’ve never been able to experience this before. To turn it around and have some great comebacks and ultimately make the playoffs is an amazing feeling.”

Muhlenberg’s path to the postseason was a microcosm of the larger comeback the program has made in recent years. The Mules (16-18-1, 9-8-1) had to pull off a stunning rally against Hopkins in their CC finale just to keep the dream alive. They scored three runs in the bottom of the 11th, capped by a walkoff single with two outs by junior Kurt Johnson, to nab a 10-9 victory.

That gave Muhlenberg a chance, but it still needed help from Gettysburg or Dickinson. The Mules got it from both, but their first playoff berth in six years still had plenty to do with the work they did up to that point. After all, the other three CC playoff teams were picked to finish 1-2-3 in the preseason poll. Muhlenberg? Seventh.

“We never give up,” said Rosen, who homered leading off the 11th inning against Hopkins. “Even the games where we’ve rallied late and didn’t win, we came back from four or five runs down and gave ourselves a chance.”

Finally back in the playoffs, the Mules are thrilled at the chance to make some noise in the postseason. Their first obstacle is Haverford, the 2012 CC champion and the only team other than Johns Hopkins (8) or Franklin & Marshall (3) to win a league title since the tournament began in 2002. The Fords are making their seventh consecutive appearance in the conference playoffs.

Brett Rosen
Rosen is tied for the team lead with three home runs, including two in his last three games.
The teams split their season series, with each winning on the other’s home field. The Mules captured a 12-10 shootout before the Fords evened the score with an 11-4 victory in Allentown nine days ago. The common denominator isn’t difficult to spot.

The Fords (18-17, 11-7) lead the CC by a wide margin with 103 stolen bases, 37 more than the next closest team. Rosen threw out two of three would-be base stealers in the first meeting, but Haverford swiped a whopping nine bags in the rematch. Rosen knows he will play a major role on Thursday.

“The first game, we did a pretty good job of limiting baserunners, but in the second they were running at will,” Rosen said. “We’ll see what happens this time. I’m excited for the challenge.”

Another big challenge will stare down the Mules from 60 feet, 6 inches away. The Mules are likely to face Haverford’s top pitcher, who leads the league in wins (7) and earned run average (0.85) and has struck out 69 over 52.2 innings of work.

“We haven’t faced him this year, so we are really looking forward to that,” Rosen said. “I feel like our team does really well against quality pitching.”

Muhlenberg certainly has some weapons to counter the Fords’ ace. Senior John Scuderi (3 HR, 29 RBI) ranks eighth in the CC with a team-leading .365 average, while freshman John Icaza (.346, 3 HR, 20 RBI) is on a 13-for-22 tear in his last five games. Senior Max Litvak hit .338 with 23 RBI in the regular season, and junior Jimmy Cody is batting .299 with 20 RBI.

Though the Mules have zero collective postseason experience between them, they’ll enter the CC tournament knowing they can beat whoever they face; Muhlenberg split with each of the other three playoff teams.

For Rosen and Muhlenberg’s senior class, a deep run would be the perfect way to cap a career spent bringing the program back to relevance.

“I can’t even put it into words,” Rosen said. “It would be incredible. We’ll take it one game at a time and see who’s left standing on Sunday.”