Baseball improves to 12-4 with WPI walk-off win

Holding onto a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, starter Chrisopher L. Vaughan ’12 found himself in a bases-loaded jam, pitching on a frigid Tuesday afternoon against Worcester Polytechnic Institute. This is the type of situation when dugout chatter tends to pick up. Dugout chatter is a rhythmic composition of the digits of the player’s numbers (2 and 8, in the case of Vaughan), a disyllabic nickname (Vaughanie), and exhortations like “here we go” or “battle.” The presence and intensity of the chatter matters far more than the content. As such, heads turn when someone from the dugout artfully weaves in the suggestion that Vaughan should actually “have fun” and that, in fact, “baseball is fun.”

This MIT Baseball team, however, has already experienced quite a bit of fun and success, three weeks into the season with a 12-4 record entering Tuesday’s matchup. Vaughan had no problem extinguishing the threat, setting down Mitch McClune on a swinging strikeout and inducing a groundout from Brian Schopka to end the inning. Coach Andy Barlow turned to Henry Zhu ’13 in the sixth inning, after five sterling innings from Vaughan. While MIT’s bats struggled against WPI lefty Eric Johnson, Zhu worked efficiently through the sixth and seventh. Trouble arose in the eighth, when a misplayed bunt attempt gave way to a sequence in which WPI’s Mike Gauvin scampered home on a passed ball to tie the game at 1-1.

Johnson would return to the mound for the ninth inning, but allowed three consecutive baserunners to reach. Jonathan E. Rea ’14 anticipated and pounced on a curveball in the zone, stroking a line-drive single to left-field to deliver a walk-off win and even the series with WPI at 1-1. Rea explained his approach afterwards, noting that “all I had to do was elevate the ball to the outfield to at least pick up a sacrifice fly to bring in the runner from third.”

Barlow characterized Tuesday’s triumph as a big win as MIT looks to build on the momentum gained with a strong performance over spring break in Florida. While MIT’s offense has sputtered at times, Barlow praised his club’s efforts on the pitching and defense fronts as major reasons why MIT has gotten off to a hot start against tough conference competition and is ranked No. 22 in the nation.

The next few weeks pose an important test for the Engineers; coaches have to monitor closely and manage creatively the workloads of their pitchers as the team plays 15 games in 15 days, including several doubleheaders. If the walk-off wins keep coming as the calendar turns to April, however, players and fans of the Engineers will need no reminder that “baseball is fun.”