By Tyler Melvin

Collegiate baseball made its official return to Union, Missouri on Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, 2022, when East Central took on Milwaukee Tech. The Falcons squad manned the field behind standout starting pitcher Alfred Ulloa in front of a large crowd.

Pregame festivities included ceremonial first pitches from ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer and Mr. John Moroney, restaurant franchise and title sponsor of the field’s renovations. Attendees took notice of the tribute to ECC Baseball alumni Tom Henke and Omir Santos on the outfield fence in addition to the impressive new scoreboard and turf infield. They were also treated to free drinks, cookies and tacos courtesy of sponsorship partner Taco Bell. Among the spectators were community members, alumni, staff, families, and even softball players who paused practice to support their male counterparts.

Union resident Bill Hammerschmidt was in attendance for the opener. A former All-State athlete himself, “The Hammer” reminisced of playing against Tom Henke in High School. He then commented on the return of the men’s league, saying “This area needs [baseball]… I’m happy to see it”. School officials had foreseen “overwhelming interest” in the program, a suspicion that was confirmed during the Falcon’s Opening weekend.  

Ulloa walked his first batter of the day but soon overcame any nerves by striking out the side. The right hander produced a number of swing and misses using a blazing fastball and crafty pitch-sequencing. His quick pace on the mound and nose-diving off-speed pitches had Stormers hitters guessing throughout the afternoon.

The Falcons trailed 3-1 upon completion of Ulloa’s 6th and final inning of work, all unearned runs for the opposition. Number twelve would end his day with eleven total strikeouts and an impressive diving catch on a failed bunt attempt. Reflecting on his performance following the game, The Dominican flamethrower coyly admitted, “I told coach… I wanted to stay in [the game]”. Loyalty to his position is a big part of Alfred’s pitching success; he sets out to finish what he starts and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win. Although, with a high pitch count and being so early in the season, Coach Mills made an informed decision by turning to his bullpen to try and close things down.

After running into an out on the basepaths to end the previous inning the Falcons came surging back in the home half of the sixth. Tyson Dent’s bloop single to the opposite field jump started the rally. He was driven home on a massive double into deep right-center field from the bat of Nathan Turner. Cutting the deficit to one, Falcons fans and players alike began to buzz. Ultimately, it was patience that led to the game-tying run as Trey Orman worked a walk and then a wild pitch advanced both runners to scoring position. Trevor Packan’s RBI ground ball would tie the score headed into the final frame.

ECC’s late inning rally fell short after giving up two runs in the top of the seventh. The contest remained in the balance until the final batter, the tying run stranded ninety feet away and the winning run ninety feet more. Although the Falcons outhit their opponent, miscues from earlier in the game were a bit too much to overcome in the 5-4 loss.

Both pitching and offense struggled in game two as ECC fell once more, 8-3. Despite losing both games of the double-header, the Falcons battled until the bitter end knowing they’d wrap up the 4-game set against Milwaukee Tech the following day.

Saturday’s contest was embellished by the bright, warm, and windy kind of weather that really tells you it’s baseball season. The Falcons, trailing early in the first game of the day, were energized by Ethan Lindemann’s solo shot over the left-center field fence; it was the first homerun at the team’s new home field. With the score knotted in the 3rd inning, East Central’s patience paid off again when a dropped third strike led to a sequence of Stormers errors that allowed the go-ahead run to score.

In a game where East Central benefited heavily from free bases, Austin McKim stood out with his four runs batted in. A 14-8 final, the offensive outpouring ensured Hudson Stark his first win of the season after pitching five and a third innings.

Saturday’s game two was wildly different from game one. Luciano Terrilli got his team going with a leadoff double in the first. He’d come around to score and tie the game at 1 apiece. In the third Inning, Seth Shannon launched a solo homer out of right-center field and the Falcons never looked back. ECC scraped out a 4-2 win to split the home series thanks to strong outings from August Panhorst and Shane Kearbey who racked up multiple strikeouts over 4 2/3 innings.

Opening weekend was special for the new Falcons and the return of baseball is exciting for the school and community. There are events scheduled throughout the season at ECC Home Games, all are worth attending for a team that’s well worth watching. Expectations were difficult to set early on considering the program’s youth, but the team is made up of guys who “just want to win”. It’s a privilege to have this group of athletes representing East Central College on the baseball diamond. 

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