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Owls bag big win before bowing out of NCAC Tournament

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — The Kenyon College baseball team’s 2024 campaign came to a close on Friday, but the Owls capped a stellar season with a strong showing in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) Tournament. Kenyon played two games at the V. A. Memorial Stadium, starting the day with a dominant 10-2 victory over DePauw University in an elimination game before bowing out of the postseason with a 14-1 loss against Denison University.

The stakes were high but straightforward for the Owls heading into Friday: win or go home. After being held to just two hits in yesterday’s NCAC Tournament opener against top-seeded Wittenberg University and being pushed to the brink in the double-elimination bracket, No. 4-seeded Kenyon came out on fire against No. 3-seeded DePauw, putting up four runs in the top of the first inning. Nate Rosen got things started with a leadoff single, and Gio Giuliani was hit by a pitch after going down in the count 0-2 to put two runners on base on the next at-bat.

Ben Nash tapped a sacrifice bunt down the first base line to move both runners to scoring position, but a strikeout on the next at-bat put the Owls at two outs. Luke Meister stepped up and ripped a clutch single to third, scoring Rosen and moving Giuliani to third. He stole second during Malcolm Gaynor’s trip to the plate, and the senior capitalized with a two-run single to left center to put Kenyon up 3-0. Parker Gibbons built on the lead during his at-bat, smashing a triple to right-center field to score Gaynor from first and take the 4-0 lead. 

The Tigers quickly responded with a solo home run in the first batter of the bottom of the first, but starting pitcher Peyton Hodges settled down and delivered four innings of scoreless baseball from that point on, striking out four batters with one walk and four hits. 

Kenyon added two more in the fourth and fifth innings combined, as Nash singled up the middle to score Guiliani, while Gaynor pieced a double into right, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and was batted in on Gibbons’ groundout to put the Owls up 6-1. 

Theo Canning came in to relieve Hodges and gave up one run in the sixth on four hits and two strikeouts. Still, Kenyon added some insurance in the top of the seventh as Gaynor striped his third hit of the day to bring Nash around to go ahead 7-2.

The Owls put the finishing touches on the must-win contest in the top of the ninth, as Tyler Nee knocked a sacrifice fly to right, scoring Ben Zimmerman. Two batters later, Rosen sent his third hit of the game to left, a double which scored Stephen Carr and Gibbons to set the score 10-2. Jack Enger closed out the game in four batters to keep Kenyon’s postseason journey alive.

Kenyon improved to 22-16 with the win, the program’s first NCAC Tournament victory since 2009. The Owls had another elimination on deck shortly after knocking the Tigers out of the tournament. Denison University was waiting to play the winner of the matchup between Kenyon and DePauw after the Big Red fell to Wittenberg in the first of three games played on Friday.

Not only were the Big Red the No. 2 seed in the tournament, but Denison was also ranked No. 2 in the Division III baseball standings after a phenomenal regular season. However, Kenyon maintained momentum after a short break between games, and the Owls struck first against the Big Red.

After a red-hot game one, Rosen ripped a leadoff double against Denison, firing up the Kenyon faithful. A couple of groundouts brought the junior around to score, and Nash’s RBI gave the Owls a 1-0 edge in the top of the first inning. The early edge persisted despite each team stranding three runners over the next couple of frames as senior Jackson Yelland had a strong start on the mound while Denison first-year Jack Rollo settled in after the early blow.

Unfortunately for the Owls, Denison flipped the script in the third frame. Noah Leib launched a two-run home run to put the Big Red on top, but the bigger blows came later as Denison scored four two-out runs to put six runs on the board. Denison followed up with a run in the fourth before scoring seven runs on just three hits in the fifth inning, pulling away at 14-1.

All of Denison’s runs came in that three-inning spurt. Despite the deficit, Kenyon put together positives on both sides of the ball. Lewis Cropper had one of his best outings of the year as the junior threw 3.1 scoreless innings of relief, striking out three batters without issuing a walk and allowing just five hits. Offensively, Giuliani had three hits in four at-bats, ending his stellar first-year season with a team-leading .350 batting average.

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