Bob Babb didn’t get to 44 years of coaching the Johns Hopkins baseball program by being inflexible.
The venerable coach might have pulled off one of his best moves when he shook up a batting lineup that struck out six times and was limited to nine hits in the No. 1 seed Blue Jays’ 6-3 loss to No. 5 seed Baldwin Wallace of Ohio in an NCAA Division III College World Series semifinal earlier on Monday. Babb’s players responded with two runs in the first three innings to fuel an 8-2 win against the Yellow Jackets in Monday evening’s rematch at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The victory sends Johns Hopkins (47-6) to its second national championship series and first since 2008. That 2008 squad lost to Trinity of Connecticut, 5-4.
The Blue Jays will face No. 3 seed Lynchburg (46-7) in a three-game series starting Wednesday at 1 p.m. The Hornets earned their first appearance in the finals by defeating No. 7 seed East Texas Baptist, 7-1, earlier on Monday.
“It feels great,” Babb said. The championship is “something that we’ve been shooting for for the last few years, but particularly this year. We’ve got ourselves in a situation now where we’re two wins away.”
Johns Hopkins overcame Baldwin Wallace’s second upset bid in a row courtesy of a little tinkering by Babb, whose 1,265 wins are the second most wins among active Division III coaches. Without freshman right fielder Alex Shane — the leadoff batter who had a team-best .432 batting average — who suffered a concussion in Saturday’s 10-6 win against the Yellow Jackets, Babb moved his players like a chess grandmaster.
He pushed senior left fielder Matthew Cooper from the second spot to the leadoff position and then moved everyone else one spot up from their usual batting position. Graduate student right fielder Sam Browning slid into the ninth slot.
“We just thought we’d bump everybody and get our better hitters maybe one more at-bat,” said Babb, a 1977 Blue Jays graduate. “I felt comfortable with that. I was hoping that we could score first and put a little more pressure on them, and that’s exactly what happened.”
The decisions paid off. Cooper, the first-team All-American who set a program record for home runs in a season with 24 and in a career with 36, had been 2 of 13 in three College World Series games. In his first at-bat, he pounded a double off the fence in left field and scored on a single by sophomore third baseman Shawn Steuerer (his 13th RBI of the College World Series).
In the top of the third inning, Cooper bashed another double into left field and scored on a wild pitch two batters later. Afterward, Cooper noted that he had been the team’s leadoff batter for much of last season.
“It’s kind of funny to go back there,” said Cooper, who produced those two doubles and two runs in five at-bats. “It was a full-circle moment for myself. So it was pretty cool to be back in that spot. I think it’s a cool spot to be in because I can go up and set the tone for the game and get things going and really fire up the dugout. I really enjoy that spot.”
After sophomore shortstop Dylan Whitney opened the top of the fifth inning with a single, he scored on a single by sophomore first baseman Dillon Souvignier. The next inning, a double by junior designated hitter Caleb Cyr plated senior catcher Sam Frank and junior center fielder Tripp Myers, a Towson resident and Gilman graduate, gave Johns Hopkins a 5-1 advantage.
Then, in the top of the eighth, Stevens’ single drove in Frank, and Whitney’s double down the left-field line pushed Myers and Stevens across the plate for an 8-1 cushion that would prove insurmountable.
Whitney went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run and Souvignier finished 2-for-5 with an RBI.
The Blue Jays also benefited from the mound presence of sophomore right-hander Matt Savedoff. After the team used three pitchers in the earlier setback to Baldwin Wallace, Savedoff threw a complete game, scattering nine hits, seven strikeouts and three walks on a career-high 148 pitches.
“Once I got things rolling, I was just going to go the whole way and save some pitching for the next round and just be a bulldog out there and get it done,” said Savedoff, who improved to 10-0 and registered his first complete game of the season. “At that point, it’s just like adrenaline takes you through. I knew I was going to finish that game.”
Senior first baseman Luke Vonderhaar and senior designated hitter Alexis Castillo paced the Yellow Jackets (39-12), each going 2-for-4 with an RBI. But after getting a stellar complete-game performance from sophomore pitcher Kade Swisher in Monday’s first game, Baldwin Wallace went through four pitchers in the loss.
Despite dropping the first game, Cooper said he and his teammates were brimming with confidence.
“I think our motto all year has been, ‘Leave no doubt,’” he said. “At the same time, we knew they had to beat us twice in one day and that would be a tough task for them. We focused on ourselves and came to play our A-game. Maybe we didn’t hit our best, but behind a strong start from Matt Savedoff, it was amazing to see him throw, and we got a couple runs early. So it was never a doubt for us. We just came out and played our game and played confidently, and let the rest take care of itself.”
NCAA Division III College World Series
Johns Hopkins vs. Lynchburg
At Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Wednesday, 1 p.m.