Expectations are funny things. Often expectations turn out, well . . . unexpectedly.
Yes, there were expectations that second year head coach Jake Martin would eventually bring the Wabash College baseball program to high standards. After all, Martin accomplished the very same for DePauw University. There he served as head coach for six years, making the expected step up from assistant coach.
Martin led the Tigers to North Coast Athletic Conference regular season pennants in 2012 and 2016, and an NCAC tournament pennant in 2014. The Tigers’ 34-14 record in 2012 culminated in a trip to the NCAA Mideast Regionals, and Coach of the Year honors for Martin.
Martin’s jump to Wabash wasn’t totally unexpected. He graduated from Wabash College where he earned four letters in baseball. He was a 13 game winner, going 5-1 on the mound as a senior, and carried a .374 career batting average. Martin was a two-time All-NCAC pick, and was team MVP in 2003.
So you see, Martin’s pedigree is a pip of great expectations. What wasn’t expected was that it could happen this season.
Martin’s 2018 Little Giants made history. Their season record of 32-17 set Wabash College marks for most wins in a season and most total games played. Additionally, the squad qualified for the NCAC Conference Tournament, and captured a spot in the NCAA Division III Mideast Regionals for only the second time in school history.
No one expected history-making. Not when the Little Giants dropped two to top-five ranked The College of Wooster in mid-April. No one expected it when DePauw won twice. No one expected it when Martin’s squad suffered through a six game losing streak to end the regular season.
But then no one expected what happened next.
Contenders for the last NCAC Conference Tournament slot swept each other aside, opening the door for Wabash to qualify for post-season play. Wabash then mowed down No. 24 Denison, and upset the nation’s No. 2 team, Wooster — the team that beat them twice in April.
Then they beat them again. Wabash won the conference tournament.
No one expected that.
The win advanced Wabash to the 2018 NCAA Division III Mideast Regionals. Unexpectedly, the selection committee paired Wabash and Wooster again in the first round. This time the Fighting Scots prevailed.
Nevertheless, Wabash Always Fights, ya’ know, and the Little Giants surprised Ithaca (NY), LaRoche (PA), Adrian (MI), and three time national champion Marietta (OH) in the elimination bracket on their way back to meeting Wooster. Their sixth meeting of the season (and hopefully the seventh) would again be for a title.
Wabash led 1-0 through five innings. Guess what happened next. The unexpected.
The rock-solid Wabash defense committed two errors in the sixth, and Wooster went on to win. Wabash finished six outs from a chance to go to the NCAA Division III World Series.
The Wabash run wasn’t expected. Not with only six seniors on the team. Not with sixteen freshman on the roster. Not with seven underclassmen in the lineup. Not this year.
Next year? Hopes will certainly be high.
And the expectations.
John O. Marlowe spent most of his career as a “pine-time” player, and was football's first DH (dummy holder) for Wabash College in the late 1970's. New to the art of the sports beat writer, Marlowe has spent forty years – and nearly $11,000 – following Indiana high school sports.