By Abram Erickson
Thanks to a commanding opening stretch, the Wheaton Thunder Men’s Baseball team is off to a strong start this season, and they’re cruising into conference play.
Currently sitting at a 13-6 record, the team started off the year on fire in the non-conference schedule, racking up seven straight wins.
Their winning streak began at Lookout Mountain, Georgia, where the Thunder opened the season with a pair of wins against Covenant College. Then they went to Fort Pierce, Florida for the team’s annual spring break trip, where the Thunder won all of their first five games in the Florida Coast Spring Training Tournament. Wheaton gained two victories against Norwich University, then took a game apiece from Geneva College, Western Connecticut State and Cairn University.
Two losses in a doubleheader against Washington College stopped the streak at seven wins, but the Thunder stormed back with a commanding 11-1 win over the College of Mount Saint Vincent to finish off the tournament.
The Thunder returned home to Lee Pfund Stadium in Carol Stream for the first time on Friday, March 22, when they opened up the Wheaton Invitational against Concordia College (Minn.). Wheaton prevailed over Concordia 8-2 in the opener, and then tallied another victory against Saint Mary’s University (Minn.) on Saturday. The invitational finished with the Thunder falling, 5-10, to Concordia University Chicago in Saturday’s nightcap.
The Thunder were 10-3 heading into conference play and moved seamlessly into their CCIW regular-season schedule with a win against Illinois Wesleyan University, 8-5.
Wheaton’s first conference series of the year was a face-off against the Big Blue of Millikin University on March 30 and April 1. The Thunder took the opener on Saturday, 9-3, but fell 4-0 in game two. Millikin won the rubber match on Monday, 3-0, to drop Wheaton’s conference record to 2-2.
Immediately following the Millikin series, Wheaton went back to work in a CCIW doubleheader against Carthage College on Tuesday. The Thunder won game one in dramatic fashion, thanks to a walk-off double by freshman infielder Matthias Haggerty in the bottom of the 10th inning, which led Wheaton to the 9-8 victory. Game two saw Carthage earn a 10-7 win, and Wheaton’s conference record remain even at 3-3.
The Thunder will look to carry momentum from their strong opening throughout the CCIW season. They aim to continue performing the way they did their dominant non-conference stretch, according to senior infielder and team captain Ben Brittain.
“We’ve had a strong start to the season so far, and the most encouraging part about it is the amount of contributors,” Brittain said. “Heading into conference, our entire starting lineup was batting over .300, which is something that we have never had the luxury of in my four years on the team. Likewise, our pitching staff consistently gives us opportunities to win games.”
Brittain himself is among those setting the tone for the Thunder batters, as he leads the team with a .387 average and 29 hits. Sophomore infield/outfield player Joel Pierce has been another bright spot for the Thunder offense thus far, leading the team in doubles, total bases and home runs with eight, 45 and three, respectively.
“When the pressure of performing is spread throughout the lineup, hitters are more relaxed at the plate which builds confidence,” added Brittain.
Wheaton has strength on the mound thanks to leadership from senior starting pitcher Michael McCraith, who is the top performer among the hurlers with 32.1 innings pitched, a 3-1 overall record and a 1.95 ERA. Junior pitcher Christian Bolhuis has also added three wins on his way to a 3-2 record.
“Overall, both our confidence between individuals and teammates is at an all-time high and we are hoping to continue the trend as we begin conference,” Brittain said.
Fellow team captain Nick Mailman, a senior outfielder, echoed Brittain’s comments. “It’s been a great start to the year. We’re getting significant contributions from all spots in the lineup,” Mailman said. “We’re lucky to have so many key contributors returning, and that should bode well for us in conference.”
With a 13-6 record overall and a 3-3 record in conference, the Thunder are poised to enter the bulk of their CCIW schedule.
Up next is a three-game series against Elmhurst College on April 5 and 6, with game one on Friday in Elmhurst, and games two and three in Carol Stream on Saturday.