The Eastern Mennonite University baseball team ended the 2018 regular season in an unprecedented fashion. A late-season winning streak ended with three consecutive walk-off home runs, leaving the Royals just one game shy of making a postseason run.
In an effort to highlight the exciting, and rare, end to their season, Corey Willis (Fredericksburg, Va./Massaponax), Daniel Scott (Moneta, Va./Staunton River) and Brett Lindsay (Gloucester, Va./Gloucester) have been named Co-Royals Athlete of the Week.
In his sixth season with the Royals, head coach Ben Spotts was proud of these three players, as well as several others on the team.
"We had several young players get very valuable experience this year and our late season win streak showed them all what is possible when you play the game the right way," Spotts said.
Overall, the men finished the year strong after breaking out of a 12-game losing streak. The team won four of their final five games to stay in the playoff hunt, ultimately closing the season with a record of 15-24 overall and 6-14 in the ODAC.
The first of the three walk-offs was hit on Alumni Recognition Day against Hampden-Sydney College, as the Royals welcomed back over 40 former players and coaches to celebrate their success over the years. Willis gave them something more to celebrate after hitting a solo shot to left field to secure a sweep of the Tigers.
During the fall season, the freshman quickly became known as a regular home run hitter. Consequently, the upperclassmen, who pick the walkout songs for freshmen, picked Willis' song to be the Britney Spears hit '...Baby One More Time'. Despite the jokes and laughter that ensued each time the song was played, Willis capitalized on the opportunity in the 10th inning against H-SC.
"It was an awesome experience not only for me but for my team, and having the ability to help my team in that fashion is something I'll never forget," Willis commented.
For Willis and his first collegiate home run, he believed that the atmosphere of the fans and alumni helped to create momentum leading up to the win.
"I thought it was a good season for being a freshman on a young team with having to adjust to classes as well as playing college ball," Willis said. "There's a lot I need to work on to get better, but overall I learned a lot this season."
In his first season, Willis had 77 plate appearances and added 17 hits, eight runs, three doubles and a triple for a .254 batting average.
"I am excited about what Corey did for us both defensively and at the plate," said Spotts. "He is a very good athlete and will only continue to improve the more he plays, his growth this year certainly makes me excited for the future."
Willis also had the game-tying hit against Lynchburg in the 9th inning which set the stage for Lindsay's walk-off home run in EMU's season-ending doubleheader.
On April 25, against crosstown rival Bridgewater College, Scott provided the walk-off three-run home run in a 6-5 conference victory over the Eagles. In his junior season, Scott had 35 hits, 23 runs, five doubles, four triples, and four home runs in his 128 at-bats. He also added 20 RBIs and a .273 batting average.
In his freshman and sophomore seasons, Scott didn't see as much playing time as he received this year.
"Coach always told me to be patient and that my time would come," Scott said. "Even though at times I may have thought I was ready in the end, I wasn't. I learned from my first two years how to slow the game down, and with good leadership ahead of me, I was able to make the transition from high school to college."
Spotts saw overall player development in Scott after playing behind some quality upperclassmen for his first two years.
"In his junior season, Dan had a great year for us all around, he provided great energy and leadership as he became a consistent hitter for us this year," he said. "When it was his turn to play this year he was ready to step in and take on an important role for us."
Scott is optimistic as he heads into his senior season with the Royals.
"This season we knew we were going to be young because of how many seniors we lost last year, but we finally found an identity of who we were as a team and hopefully we can build upon that for next year," Scott commented. "I'm very excited for the future of EMU Baseball #LYM."
The hashtag "Leave Your Mark" has been a guiding philosophy for the men in the 2018 season.
In their season finale, the Diamond Royals split a doubleheader with Lynchburg College. This time, it was Lindsay who smacked the third off the consecutive walk-offs to win game one against the Hornets. The game-winner was Lindsay's first career home run.
In his rookie season, he made 126 plate appearances and had 33 hits, 18 runs, five doubles, 12 RBIs and an overall batting average of .314.
Lindsay was out of his normal starting spot for a couple weeks due to an injury. Against the Hornets, he came into the game as a pinch hitter.
"I felt 100% entering the game and I didn't have any soreness or discomfort during my at-bats," said Lindsay.
When asked about hitting the two-run shot, Lindsay commented, "I was in shock rounding the bases. I knew I hit the ball well, but didn't know if it was enough to sneak over the fence. I was very happy that coach trusted me enough to put me in the ball game late."
EMU's departmental Freshman Of The Year took advantage of his opportunities early on in the season. He became a fixutre in the lineup every game and worked his way into the middle of the batting order for Coach Spotts.
"He provided great consistency at the plate and versatility in the infield as he could play second and third base," said Spotts. "Brett proved his toughness this year as he battled some injuries but got back in time to come off the bench for the game against Lynchburg."
Despite falling short in game two, the Royals ended their season in historic fashion with the three walk-off home runs, possibly accomplishing a streak never before done in D-III baseball. The late surge spoke to another guiding principle the team follows, which is "empty the tank." The men did just that in the 2018 season and will look to return a bulk of their roster next spring.
"I know everyone involved with our program is very excited for next season and looking forward to getting back to campus in the fall to begin working towards 2019," said Spotts in anticipation of next year.
Below is a video collage of the three straight walk-off home runs: