Schuckman: Days like this are reason Hammel returned to Hawks to pitch one more season
QUINCY — Jay Hammel wrestled with the decision.
Should he stay or should he go?
Last May, Hammel graduated from Quincy University with a bachelor’s degree in communications and media studies. He also fashioned a 9-2 record as a right-handed starter for the QU baseball team, helping the Hawks get within one victory of a trip to the NCAA Division II World Series.
When the season ended, he was left with two options — one, begin post-graduate studies and use his final year of eligibility to pitch one more season, or two, get a job and start adulting.
It wasn’t an easy choice, one he didn’t make until late July.
And it wasn’t until Sunday he unequivocally knew he made the right decision to keep hurling.
“If I wouldn’t have taken the year, I wouldn’t have just lived out one of the best days of my life,” Hammel said.
He drew the start in Sunday’s championship game of the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament and delivered on cue, lasting six innings in scorching heat while allowing just two runs and seven hits. He struck out two, walked one, trusted his defense and then turned things over to the bullpen to finish off the 13-6 victory at Mtn Dew Park.
It marked the fifth GLVC Tournament championship in program history and first since 2018.
More importantly, it was the first tournament title of any kind for the members of QU’s recruiting class of 2019, which included Lance Logsdon, Gino D’Alessio and Cruz Meier.
Together, they had been a part of 153 victories in their careers without a championship ring until Sunday.
“I was reflecting on that and this whole day on the bus ride home,” Hammel said after the Hawks made the four-hour trip back from Marion, Ill., and then learned they are the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Midwest Regional. “It’s a feeling I haven’t felt in a while, just thinking about the guys I came in with and have been here with the last five years.
“Looking at them today and celebrating with them, it’s what we’ve been trying to do. We finally got it done and got a ring. It’s awesome.”
The challenge now becomes duplicating the effort.
Quincy will be the host for a three-team sub-regional, welcoming Wayne State and Northwood to QU Stadium beginning Thursday. Should the Hawks survive and advance, they would then host the super-regional — a best-of-three showdown with a berth in the World Series at stake.
Before any of that could happen, the Hawks knew they needed to win the GLVC title and keep the good vibes rolling. They’ve now won 14 games in a row.
“Obviously, the ultimate goal is a national championship ring,” Hammel said. “But you have to take it one tournament at a time when it comes to the postseason. … Step one is completed, but the job is definitely not done.”
Hammel will have a say in completing that job.
A 6-2 record with a 6.58 ERA this season, Hammel overcame a rough start to the season and has won his last four starts, while seeing his ERA drop five points in the last six weeks. His experience and bulldogged nature will be vital the remainder of the postseason.
It showed Sunday.
“The first thing I told (QU catcher Luke Napleton) and (pitching coach MIke McDonough) whether I’m on or not I’m going to mix the three pitches because I think that’s when I’m most efficient,” Hammel said. “I was fortunate to have command of both offspeed pitches today and work off that with the fastball. The offspeed set me up for success.”
Outside of that, he simply had to weather the rising temperatures during a mid-day game.
“That turf was so hot,” Hammel said. “I liked being able to limit my innings so I could go more long term so I didn’t get worn down too quick.”
After throwing 85 pitches, he turned it over to the bullpen.
“I hear them have all the confidence in the world in me,” Hammel said. “So I’m just going to go give it my all, and I have all the confidence in the world in them coming in behind me no matter the situation.”
The bullpen finished it with right-hander Chase Gockel striking out two of three batters he faced in the ninth inning. After that, it was gloves in the air, a dogpile near the mound and a Gatorade cooler shower for QU coach Matt Schissel.
For Hammel, it’s a day he’ll never forget.
“Personally, it’s been a long journey,” Hammel said. “To win this one, it’s definitely made it all worth it.”
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