Tony Harringer | Staff Writer

Credit: Ramon Varela

Every year over spring break, the city of Winter Haven, FL holds the RussMatt Baseball Central Florida Invitational. Over 200 schools from all divisions in college baseball across the country come together and compete. The Century College Wood Ducks were amongst those invited to the tournament this season.

The invitational is scheduled conveniently at Lake Myrtle Sports Park and at Chain of Lakes Park, which are field complexes. Each has six or more baseball fields built all around each other. This allows multiple games to go on simultaneously throughout the day.

The RussMatt Invitational allowed the Century players to get to know each other better. The players connect more as a team as well as play high level opponents to get ready for the run between now and the playoffs that start in the middle of May.

In Century’s first game on March 9th, they played Niagara County, who was clearly the better team, winning convincingly 6-1. Century earned a split series winning 5-2 in game two behind Drew Prange’s two RBIs and Ryan Hennen’s six strong innings.

Century’s next opponent was a doubleheader with Lincoln College on March 10th. In game one, it was a pitcher’s duel. Neither team scored till the fourth inning. It was tied at one going into the seventh and Century scored to go up 2-1. Lincoln College rallied and scored two in the seventh to win 3-2.

Game two was a different story. Within the first two innings, Century jumped out to a 5-0 lead. Lincoln made it close in the late innings, but Century held on to win 10-7 and earn another split series. Jack Voigt struck out an astonishing 11 batters over four and two-thirds innings and Matt Casperson drove in four runs to help fuel the offense.

Century played one game against Mount Mary College’s Junior Varsity team on March 11th, and after just two innings eight runs had been scored. Century lead 5-3, but a crucial four-run top of the sixth gave Mount Marty a 10-7 lead. Century scored three in the ninth, but their comeback came up one run short, falling 11-10 in a wild game.

The Wood Ducks played one game against Heartland Community College on March 12th. Heartland built an insurmountable 9-0 lead in the fourth inning and won handedly 9-2. A positive note for Century was reliever Ethan Freese came in and pitched a five-innings shutout and striking out five.

After three days of rest, Century was back at it on March 15th to play a two-game series against Herkimer County Community College. Century scored in the top of the first, but their bats were silenced the rest of the game. Herkimer used a three-run third inning and a two-run fourth inning to pull away and win 7-1.

Century had a three-game losing streak and needed a win. In game two, they fared much better against Herkimer. Teams traded runs throughout the game and neither could pull away from each other.

In the bottom of the seventh, Century came through and ended it by scoring the winning run. They emerged victorious at 8-7 thanks to Joe Contreras’ walk-off single to end their losing streak.

Next up, Century had a doubleheader with Erie Community College. Century once again scored first, getting three runs in the bottom of the second inning. Zach Rustad pitched 5 strong innings and kept Erie’s bats quiet, only allowing two runs on two hits.

Century College blew the game open with a seven-run sixth inning and won 12-2. Griffin Schneider tallied up four RBIs in the win and went 4-5 in hitting.

In game two, it was Erie Community College who got on the board first, scoring four runs in the second inning, and knocking Century starter Jack Voigt out after just 1 ⅔ innings. Century came right back with a five-run top of the third and took the lead.

The Wood Ducks took control from there and even added insurance runs in the top of the seventh to win 9-5. A forgotten member of the team win was Brady Yanish. Brady came in relief in the second, and pitched the rest of the way. He went five and one-third innings while striking out seven.

The Wood Ducks had their final game on March 17th against Baseball Academy Canada. Century got off to a wonderful start. They scored six runs in the second and added two more runs in the sixth to go up 10-2.

Canada Academy added some runs in the sixth, but never got close, as Century finished tournament play with a 10-5 victory over Baseball Academy Canada. Bryce Jorgenson collected 3 RBIs, as seven Century hitters drove in at least one run.

Century finished the tournament with a 6-5 record. Not a great tournament, but they finished on a four-game winning streak. The Wood Ducks now have a 10-7 record on the 2017 Spring Campaign and are ready for the journey to Greeneville, Tennessee for this year’s Division III World Series.

Century Coach Dwight Kotila was satisfied with the way his team played in the tournament. “Overall I think the trip was very good.” Kotila also stressed the importance of the trip for his team. “It’s a chance for the team to get together and learn a lot about our team not only on the field, but off the field and allows guys to get to know each other a lot more.”

Kotila explained why it was important that Century played the teams that they did. “It’s the competition we play. We’re playing some of the top ranked colleges in the nation, so it’s a chance for us to see what to work on and how we’re going to fare the rest of the year.”

This tournament has a lot of positives for the Century Baseball team to take away from this that will help them throughout the rest of the season. It helps them to grow and become closer as a team. A closer team will lead to positive energy and support if difficult situations happen during the season.

Getting a feel for where the team is at against other high level schools is important. Kotila explained that a lot of the teams that they played will most likely be at the World Series this year, so getting a chance to see how well they play can help down the road.

Overall this was a great opportunity for the Wood Ducks to have fun as a team, as well as play great opponents in a fun environment. Between now and May, the Ducks will find out a lot about their team and the rest of the season will test their will and fight to play together.

If everything goes in their favor, Century will be playing in Greeneville, Tennessee in late May for a chance to win the school’s first Division III World Series title.

Credit: Ramon Varela