CALEDONIA, Mich. — Jay Hammel never forgot.
A year ago, when the Quincy University baseball team was eliminated from the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional with a 22-13 loss to Davenport, Hammel worked one inning of relief and allowed two runs and four hits.
That crept into his mind as the right-handed pitcher warmed up Thursday to face the Panthers in another elimination game.
“Not only is this win or go home, but I owe these guys,” Hammel said. “That’s kind of what I was thinking.”
The Hawks weren’t going home this time.
Hammel pitched a complete game, striking out seven and throwing 124 pitches as fourth-seeded Quincy stayed alive in the Midwest Regional with a 17-4 victory over top-seeded Davenport at Farmers Insurance Athletic Complex.
It was a much-needed effort after the Hawks squandered a 5-1 lead in the ninth inning of Thursday’s opener against fifth-seeded Northwood and ended up losing 10-5.
The suddenness of what happened didn’t leave Hammel with much time to prepare to start the second game, even though he knew from the get-go he was on deck.
“Going into the ninth inning with a 5-1 lead, I was kind of in the mindset of ‘Hey, we’re going to win this and I’ve got the ball tomorrow,’” Hammel said. “So it was kind of quick, but I got locked in right away and knew what I had to do.”
He needed payback.
Not only did the Panthers pummel the Hawks’ staff last year in the regional, but they took three of four games in a non-conference series in March at QU Stadium. Hammel started Game 3 of that series — an 11-7 loss — in which he allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 ⅓ innings.
“I didn’t get Davenport earlier in the year like I wish we could have as a team,” Hammel said. “I vividly remember that regional last year and how bad we got beat and the kind of outing I had. So this was important.”
Although he allowed two runs in the third and two more in the sixth, Hammel benefited from an offense that collected a season-high 20 hits and scored in seven of the final eight innings.
“They were my best friends all game,” Hammel said of QU’s hitters. “Not only did they give me a little lead in the beginning, but they kept rallying and pouring it on and putting up insurance runs. It made things so much easier.”
As the game progressed, Hammel made it look easier. Five of his seven strikeouts came in the final three innings and he appeared to get stronger later in the game.
“It was probably the adrenaline rush,” Hammel said.
His teammates knew better.
“He was different,” QU center fielder Brock Boynton said. “I was standing out in center field in the bottom of the eighth and he threw this fastball down the middle. The kid watched it and I yelled over at Parks, ‘He’s in a different mode today. Man, he’s different.’ His fastball looked like it was going up in miles per hour later in the game. It was flowing.”
Although Davenport’s complex features a turf field, the pitching mound is all dirt. Hammel relished that.
“I had a good feel for the rubber,” Hammel said. “I’m a dirt mound kind of guy. So I was pretty comfortable out there. I had a good feel of all three pitches today.”
Although he can return next season with one year of eligibility remaining, Hammel has completed his bachelor’s degree and is undecided if he wants to enroll in graduate school and pitch one more season. So he knew Thursday’s start could have been his last.
“It was in the back of my head that this could be it,” Hammel said. “I gave it my all not thinking we were going to lose, but in the back of my mind, that’s always the thought. But I didn’t let the emotions get the best of me. I just went out there and had fun.”
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