AVON, Ohio -- University of Akron second baseman James Sheltrown may be No. 23 in the game program, but he was No. 1 in the hearts of Zips fans for drawing the bases-loaded walk in Saturday's 5-4 win over the Buffalo Bulls that put them in Sunday's Championship Game of the 2014 Mid-American Conference Baseball Tournament at All-Pro Freight Stadium.
Despite being the No. 7 seed in the tournament, Akron battled a rain-soaked and delayed first game Wednesday night, and then, defeated the Bulls twice in a three-day period to move into to the MAC Championship Game.
"It's a great feeling," Akron coach Rick Rembielak said. "Our guys have not been in this situation before. It's a credit to them, of how they're hanging in there. I still think we're sitting really good.
"Offensively, we're a little slow after the first couple innings, but then, we end up coming back. And it is a feeling. You've got to have that feeling, and it's a good way to end a ballgame going into that next game, to have a good feeling about yourself."
In the bottom of the 12th inning, Zips third baseman James Meeker singled to start the frame before shortstop Matt Rembielak drew a walk. In an effort to move the runners into scoring position, pitcher Matt Larocca dropped down a sacrifice bunt that snuck by Buffalo pitcher Kevin Hughes and loaded the bases.
After Brent Cleland was called on to relieve Hughes, he allowed the game-winning run when he walked Sheltrown on a 3-2 pitch.
"We work on that all the time," Rembielak said. "We work on situational baseball, and at that stage, as a hitter, you're looking for something to elevate and to extend through the strike zone. You don't want to end up hitting a ball on the ground, so to end up hitting fly balls, you want to make sure you extend your arms.
"Shelly's first pitch was a strike, but it was down. I think that was a very good approach there. He fought off a couple pitches, and who's going to bend first? He got to that 3-2 count and the pitcher had to throw him a strike in that situation. I would imagine he'd be ready for it. You hate to lose games like that, but we put ourselves in a pretty good situation to win that ballgame."
Rembielak was relieved the game ended when it did because Larocca was the fourth Zips hurler to throw against Buffalo, and he had gone 3.1 innings. Should the Zips have lost, they would have had to come back at 4:30 to play in an elimination game against the Bulls.
"There's no doubt that I was thinking about that because we were still in the driver's seat," Rembielak said. "Even if we lost the game, we still were able to come back and have plans B and C all lined up. What you don't want to do is end up going too long.
"I started getting a little concerned with Matt Larocca. I asked a lot out of him Thursday, and he doesn't pitch that long when he comes in. He was a little bit more rested than just one day off. When he gets up there, he has that bulldog mentality, and he started getting the ball up, and that's a sign of tiredness. He went to 3-0 on that one hitter, and struck him out, so he made a quick adjustment on the fly. I think he just took a deep breath and regrouped.
"Don't think I wasn't thinking of what to say if we would've not won this ballgame, but to end up having it where you have the hours and some time, and it's just one game, winner-take-all, tomorrow. (We'll) get on the field, regroup, rest and get ready to go tomorrow."