Long Day's Journey Into Night

Long Day's Journey Into Night
Monday, March 12, 2018 | by Randall Stewart, Director of Athletic Communications

Tuesday, 2:14 p.m. – The Castle

Russell Triplett knows what he has to do. That doesn’t mean he has to like it.

The head baseball coach, sitting in the off-campus baseball nerve center affectionately dubbed “The Castle” that is equal parts office space, locker room, player lounge, and operations building, reluctantly composes a text message to Director of Athletic Communications Randall Stewart informing him of a new course of action, the umpteenth permutation of a constantly evolving plan.

“We are canceling tonight’s doubleheader. Just waiting on Lincoln coach to let me know what he wants to do tomorrow.”

The original plan was to play visiting Lincoln University of Pennsylvania in a pair of seven-inning contests Tuesday afternoon at the Smith Road Complex, then migrate a state westward to face Augusta University on Wednesday night. With Lincoln scheduled to play three local teams in five days and staying in South Carolina for their entire Spring Break, it’s a high priority for all parties involved that the Lions and Wolves meet on the diamond.

But not at the expense of the other games on the schedule.

Tuesday, 3:23 p.m. – O.L. Casey Center

An hour later, another new plan (the sixth version? Seventh?) arises. After deliberation between Triplett, Stewart, Director of Athletics Ralph Patterson, and Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance and Operations Wayne Alexander, approval is given to a new schedule and staffing plan.

Newberry will host Lincoln at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday. Then travel to Augusta to face the Jaguars at 6:00 p.m.

Two games in two states. In a seven-hour period.

Wednesday, 8:00 a.m. – The Castle

Players and coaches gather to munch on fruit, get dressed, and review the day’s plan.

Stretch at 8:45. Batting practice at 9:00. Game at 11:00. Board the bus at 3:30. Game at 6:00.

It promises to be a long day.

Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. – Smith Road Complex

Alexander and intern Patrick DuPre have been at the field for nearly half an hour now. Jason Aldean’s unmistakable leathery twang blares over the stadium PA system, cutting through the crisp morning air as Lincoln’s bus approaches the parking lot.

I’m just a country boy with a farmer’s tan
So help me, girl, I’ll be your Pickup Man

The distinctive ping of ball meeting composite bat is displaced today—with the field inundated by over three-quarters of an inch of rain in the past 24 hours, batting practice has been moved to the cages down the third base line.

The bulk of the pregame preparations now complete for baseball, Alexander and DuPre turn their attention to preparing the softball facility for a doubleheader that will begin as the baseball game with Lincoln reaches the late innings.

Across campus, Stewart and the Athletic Communications staff are in the O.L. Casey Center finalizing game programs, gathering camera equipment, and going over last-minute adjustments to each individual’s specific job duties.

Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie! Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie!

Wednesday, 9:49 a.m. – Smith Road Complex 

Triplett delves further into the day’s unique schedule.

“We’re on Spring Break. We want to play. These guys are excited about playing. They even asked me if we could play two [games] in the morning and then drive over. But I think one nine-inning game here at home and then get on the bus and drive to Augusta…it’ll be a fun day for us. Eighteen innings of baseball—which we need right now. We’re looking forward to it.”

Center fielder Danton Hyman, who entered the day on a team-best 14-game hitting streak (one that began on Feb. 9, the first game after Hyman eschewed Chris Stapleton’s “Parachute” to return to his 2017 walkup song: “The Man” by Aloe Blacc), bobbed with pent-up energy as he outlined his expectations for the day.

“[Playing two] games today is very important for this team because maybe it can get us rolling. We’ve had a good week so far. Maybe we can get on a little hot streak, get some players in there, give them some at-bats. Playing this game this morning should be able to get us rolling into this afternoon.

“We’ve had long intrasquads (scrimmages); we’ve played 18 innings in one day plenty of times. Playing in two different locations is going to be pretty fun. We get to get on the bus, hopefully after this win, and celebrate, but then get our minds right for the next game.”

Wednesday, 10:02 a.m. – Smith Road Complex

Triplett’s weapon of choice is an adidas bat. Associate Head Coach Jay Snyder and Assistant Coach John Fogarile use fungoes.

You wake up late for school, man you don’t want to go
You ask your mom please, but she still says no

The Beastie Boys provide the backdrop for in-and-out. Triplett and “Fogie” are stationed in the home plate area peppering the infielders with grounders. Snyder lifts fly balls from foul territory into center field. Pitchers and catchers are split between the bullpen and the right field line under the watchful eye of Pitching Coach P.J. Zocchi.

You gotta fight…for your right…to party!

Stewart escapes the facility momentarily to procure breakfast. Or is it lunch?

By 10:40, he and DuPre are positioned in the press box with lineups entered, live stats and video stream activated, and walkup songs prepared. PA announcements begin promptly at 10:45, lineups are exchanged at 10:50, and then: showtime.

Wednesday, 11:03 a.m. – Smith Road Complex

Leading off the top of the first for Lincoln: Right fielder, number four, Dominic Rheubottom.

Josh Stempihar peers over his glove at batterymate Ruben Trillo and his enemy combatant. Home plate umpire Stitch Williams points with his right hand and gives a one-word command: “Play!” Stempihar immediately obliges, barely waiting for the echo to subside before he commences his short windup. Rheubottom waves at a high, outside fastball. Strike one.

We are underway.

Wednesday, 12:58 p.m. – Smith Road Complex

The Star-Spangled Banner can be heard for the second time today, fainter but still distinguishable. Newberry’s softball team stands at attention on the first base line, moments away from beginning a doubleheader against Converse.

There are now twice as many staffers at the softball field than the skeleton crew remaining to see the baseball game to its conclusion, where Newberry leads Lincoln 15-0 in the bottom of the sixth. The Wolves have scored three runs in each of the first five innings and platooned in an entirely new defensive alignment to start the sixth.

Hyman’s hitting streak has come to an end; he was officially 0-for-1 but scored three runs after being hit by a pitch and walking three times. Derek Olenchuk has recorded six RBI—by the end of the night he will be one shy of the national lead.

Wednesday, 1:46 p.m. – Smith Road Complex

Jonathan Elicier throws nine pitches in the ninth inning. All are strikes. Julian Placencia, the third catcher of the day for Newberry, zips the ball to Tyler White to complete the final out of a 16-3 victory, Newberry’s fifth win in its last six games.

Partners in crime
We're kicking up dust
Just like Bonnie had her Clyde
She's my ride or die,
All eyes on us

Jon Langston drowns out the high-fives and atta-boys, the first of two handshake lines the Wolves will participate in during the day. Triplett barks out instructions from his perch atop the bench in the first base dugout.

Go get some food. Head back to The Castle. Grab your scarlet jerseys with the gray stripe across the chest. Gray pants. Bus leaves at 3:30. Don’t be late.

“I think it was a good start to the day,” Triplett remarked in an interview. “We want to continue, push forward, get on this bus, head to Augusta, and see if we can play well tonight.”

Yes, the plan was to use three catchers to reduce wear and tear. Yes, all position players will be available in Augusta. Why was this game important? Colin Allman needed a chance to stay hot, Olenchuk to get hot again, and seldom-used players to be rewarded for their hard work in practice.

Wednesday, 3:34 p.m. – SC Highway 121, Newberry

A handful of players coming from Zaxby’s cut it close, but everyone is on time getting back to The Castle. Thirty-six players, five coaches, one trainer, and one Athletic Communications staffer settle in for the 68-mile journey.

The tightly-packed bus snakes through The Castle’s parking lot, makes a hard right turn onto College Street, and pivots left toward the railroad tracks, Oakland Mill, and the challenge ahead.

Wednesday, 4:23 p.m. – SC Highway 121, South of Johnston

Assistant Coach Jeff Sneed, a 2017 South Atlantic Conference Gold Glove catcher, all-tournament selection, and two-time Academic All-American, says it all comes down to fuel and stretching.

“We made sure [the players] had a good plan going into the day of when they were going to eat, what they were going to drink, and making sure they got plenty of fuel.

“I think another thing is making sure to stay stretched out. We’ve got a long bus ride in between two games. I think when we get to the park we’ll take some extra time to stretch, maybe use the foam roller a little bit, really get their body loose before they jump into anything baseball-wise.”

Extra time to spend stretching, of course, will be in short supply on such a tight timeline—a fact not lost on Triplett, who had already begun to contemplate cutting batting practice from the Wolves’ pregame preparation in Augusta as he intently studies Newberry's updated statistics on his iPhone screen.

“The biggest thing,” Sneed continued, “is once you take the field and that first pitch is thrown, you honestly forget about all the soreness. You just want to play the game at that point. If they want to play the game, their body will be ready.”

Wednesday, 4:50 p.m. – Interstate 20, Above the Savannah River

Triplett looks up from his data-crunching discussion with Snyder about Newberry’s offensive struggles with runners in scoring position. He rises from the front seat and makes his way back a few rows, raising his voice to be heard over The Patriot playing on the bus’s four screens.

“Hey, wake everybody up and get your jerseys on,” he instructs the team. “We’re almost there.”

Wednesday, 5:06 p.m. – Lake Olmstead Stadium

The players file off the bus and march through the open gate toward the first base dugout. As expected, batting practice will be foregone.

A playlist mixing the new wave of “bro-country” with 1990’s country hits considered ancient history to current players fills the rapidly-cooling air and reverberates off the aluminum bleachers in the 4,800-seat venue.

Homeboy, you’re gonna wish one day
You were sittin’ on the gate of a truck by the lake 

Zocchi, the pitching coach, reviews his strategy for the game against the Jaguars, a nonconference rival that Newberry defeated 9-8 in the longest game in South Atlantic Conference history, 17 innings, during the Wolves’ most recent trip to Lake Olmstead Stadium last March.

“You want to make sure you use the right guys at the right time. This morning we wanted to use predominantly basically two guys but we had to use a few more. I know one can bounce back for the nightcap tonight.

“You want to have guys go deep into the game and compete for as long as they can. I think we did good enough of a job today doing that to where we have a lot of fresh arms for tonight.

One Eric Church song subtly bleeds into another.

Yeah, I’m sure there’s higher highs
Where the high risers rise
But me, I’m gonna sit right here tonight
And catch me a ‘round here buzz

“You can’t be thinking about the first game,” explained reigning Southeast Region Player of the Week Colin Allman, who is entering the evening on a 20-game reached-base streak that stretches back to 2017. “If you had a bad game, if you had a good game, it doesn’t matter. You have to come out here and compete just like you did in the first game…erase everything and act like it’s one away game.”

Wednesday, 5:47 p.m. – Lake Olmstead Stadium

Sneed’s philosophy on game preparation on full display as what resembles a conditioning drill is taking place down the right field line.

Players have formed two lines, one performing ladder agility drills while the other high-steps through a set of speed hurdles. A nontraditional activity 15 minutes before the start of a game to say the least. But what about today has been traditional?

Wednesday, 6:04 p.m. – Lake Olmstead Stadium

Bawitaba, da bang, da dang diggy diggy
Diggy, said the boogie, said up jump the boogie
My name is Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid
Kid Rock

Hyman watches a fastball paint the inside corner.

Seven hours and one minute after the first game began, just 58 minutes after unloading the bus, Newberry’s second game of the day is underway.

Wednesday, 7:56 p.m. – Lake Olmstead Stadium

In the blink of an eye, the Wolves went from trailing by two runs to leading 4-3.

Augusta had broken through with three runs off Tomas Sorcia, Jr. in the fourth, but Allman’s sacrifice fly to center made the score 3-1. Robert Westenrieder jogged in from the bullpen in relief of Sorcia and got out of a two-on, two-out jam with a foulout in the sixth.

Another sacrifice fly by Allman, this time with the bases loaded in the seventh, pulls the Wolves within a run and moves everyone up 90 feet. Then, on the next pitch, Olenchuk’s ground ball to the right side and a critical Augusta error gives Newberry a 4-3 lead.

Wednesday, 8:18 p.m. – Lake Olmstead Stadium

The defensive play of the game comes from an unlikely source.

Quinton Driggers had mirrored Westenrieder’s jog five minutes earlier with the bases loaded and one out. The crafty lefty claimed his first victim on a called third strike, then was forced to show off his wheels. Jaguars catcher Caleb McElwaney rolled a ball out of the reach of first baseman Tyler Ackard ranging to his right.

Driggers sprinted off the mound as second baseman Dalton Lansdowne gobbled up the grounder. With the 6’4” Ackard in Lansdowne’s throwing lane, he folded himself into a crouch as an off-balance Lansdowne threw to Driggers racing to cover the bag.

The throw pulled him down and to his right, but the sophomore was able to brush the toe of his right cleat across the corner of the bag just as McElwaney’s left foot stepped down, prompting a staredown of the umpire from McElwaney and an argument from the Jaguars’ head coach.


The play saved two runs. Newberry still leads 4-3.

Wednesday, 8:50 p.m. – Lake Olmstead Stadium

Eleven minutes after Ackard gave the Wolves two insurance runs, Shannon Smith ensured Newberry wouldn’t need them.

Smith wraps a 2-2 curveball around the inside corner of the plate. Another called third strike, the sixth punchout of the game and 18th of the day for the Newberry pitching staff, springs the Wolves from the dugout in celebration.

No music plays as the Wolves high-five beside the pitcher’s mound. No one seems to mind.

Wednesday, 10:36 p.m. – The Castle

Over 14-and-a-half hours after it began, Newberry’s day is over.

Triplett addresses the bus, telling the players how proud he is of their resilience and their energy in the dugout. He singles out the bullpen, calling each relief pitcher that played against the Jaguars by name, as the rest of the team claps and vocalizes their appreciation.

One by one, the players file out of the bus, head to their lockers, and drive away. They’ll play again in less than 48 hours.

Friday, 11:02 a.m. – The Castle

Triplett finally allows himself a moment to reflect on the day his team has completed.

Newberry has picked up two wins, outscored opponents 22-6, gone .314 at the plate while holding its opponents to a paltry .190, compiled a .446 on-base percentage, stolen nine bases in 10 attempts, and fielded .987 as a team. All while winning two games in two states in seven hours.

Not bad for a day’s work.

An interviewer mentions that 30 different student-athletes saw action on Wednesday. One could be forgiven for not noticing the cunning smirk flashing across Triplett’s face as his eyes shift downward. He regains his stoicism in an instant and capitulates into coach-speak.

“I think we’ve got a lot of guys capable of contributing. We’ve got a lot of younger guys position player-wise. It’s a great opportunity for guys to get in the game, get experience, that are going to help this program at some point.”

Triplett promises that this type of scheduling arrangement won’t become commonplace, although he leaves the door open for future Spring Break marathons. The guys responded well to it, after all.

The interview ends and the eighth-year head coach walks into the locker room with a few reminders. He asks who the freshly-bleached pants on the ping pong table belong to.

They’d better figure it out quickly, he says. The bus to Lenoir-Rhyne leaves in 30 minutes.