DETROIT — It was a childhood dream come true for Cleary University’s baseball team on Tuesday.
There was the game at Comerica Park, where so many of them had watched the Detroit Tigers while growing up.
There was the 12-1 rout of Robert Morris University-Chicago, which had beaten the Cougars 23-5 while sweeping a doubleheader in Kentucky last month.
But there was the way they went about it, too, that was satisfying.
“We played how we know we can play,” said shortstop John Grable, a Fowlerville grad. “That is how we can play, and if we keep doing that, we’ll win us a title.”
The Cougars (10-16) were flawless in the field, pounded out 14 hits, six for extra bases, and rode the strong right arm of Rhett Holwerda, who scattered nine hits over eight innings with no walks and five strikeouts.
“I think they played their best game, top to bottom, offense, defense and pitching, that we’ve played all year,” Cleary coach Karl Kling said.
The game marked the beginning of the second half of Cleary’s schedule, weather permitting, and ended a skid which had seen the Cougars lose their previous three games and five of their last seven.
“I told this kids it’s not that we can’t do it,” Kling said. “We just haven’t done it. I told them before that game that everyone needs to just settle down and do their job.”
Robert Morris scored its only run of the game in the second inning. Jalen Cox hit a leadoff triple and scored two batters later on Cam Bass’ single.
But Holwerda (4-2) was unperturbed.
“I was establishing my two-seam (fastball) on the outside,” he said. “My changeup had guys really out front when they were guessing on the fastball.”
Catcher James Edwards noticed and adjusted accordingly.
“He did a great job recognizing that early,” Kling said of his catcher. “We got a lot of rollover double plays, which was good. We got some big strikeouts and he kept them off-balance the entire game.”
The Cougars got all the runs they needed in the bottom of the third.
Cole Gilmer led off with a double and scored when John Malbone broke out of a slump with a double. William Lovell dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line, advancing Malbone, who scored when pitcher Eric Ryan bobbled the ball in an attempt to throw Lovell out. After Grable reached on a fielder’s choice he scored from first on a double by Daniel Garcia. He finished the scoring when Jamar Bray singled him home.
“It’s a huge confidence booster,” Holwerda said. “Any time you get insurance runs as a pitcher, it’s not that you go on cruise control, but you know your teammates have your back.”
Gilmer later tripled and finished with two runs scored and an RBI.
The Cougars have 23 games left in the regular season, which ends in four weeks. The marathon begins with a doubleheader at Concordia University on Thursday.
“Hopefully it carries over to Thursday,” Kling said of Tuesday’s effort. “The environment (at Comerica Park) was great, but hopefully if we play well on Thursday it can roll into the weekend and into next week. It’s quite possible we can win nine or 10 games in a row and increase our chances of getting a top seed in the (USCAA) World Series instead of a middle seed.”
After the game, Cleary had Senior Day ceremonies for its players to cap off a day most won’t soon forget.
“To play here in the last season of my career, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Holwerda said.