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Odd field not a worry

Wesleyan's Kevin O'Leary follows through on his 23rd home run of the year.

Wesleyan's Kevin O'Leary follows through on his 23rd home run of the year.

AUGUSTA -- Long before Wesleyan's baseball team traveled to Aquinas High School for Friday's Class A state championship doubleheader, the players had heard a lot about the school's unusual field.

With a temporary fence in the left-field corner conservatively estimated at 340 feet away from home plate and a left-center power alley that stretched close to 400 feet, the field was considerably larger than what the Wolves were used to back home at cozy Donn Gaebelein Field.

And with a centerfield fence generously listed at 360 feet, the field's unusual angles and shape could be quite intimidating for an opponent like Wesleyan that is used to playing longball.

However, the Wolves adapted to the unusual field quite nicely, pounding out 21 hits in taking a doubleheader sweep of the host Fighting Irish by scores of 9-4 and 13-0.

"The fences don't move for either team," said senior shortstop/pitcher Kevin O'Leary, who finished the day 5-for-7 at the plate. "So, if we just come out and hit the ball like we do, good things happen for us."

The Wolves certainly weren't intimidated by its spacious confines, especially not O'Leary, who had four of Wesleyan's five extra-base hits on the day, including his 23rd home run of the season, just two short of the state single-season record.

The Furman signee might have reached, or even surpassed, the record with a couple of his blasts that stayed in the park if the games had been played at Gaebelein Field.

But he isn't complaining.

"The home run record was on my mind in the second game, I'm not going to lie, because we were up five runs (early)," O'Leary said. "But I'd rather have a state championship."

The Wolves used the larger field to their advantage throughout the day, with 16 singles to go along with O'Leary's extra base hits and Will Schnupp's late single in Game 2, and took advantage of 10 walks issued by Aquinas pitching.

A big factor may have been how prepared they were. In addition to a lecture from the coaching staff and a pre-game look at the field, coach Mike Shaheen said his team went back to its experience in an earlier round to help avoid any surprises.

Wesleyan prevailed in the second round by beating Calvary Day on a considerably larger field, and Shaheen said that experience was very valuable.

"They did a great job recognizing it's a bomb to hit it out in left field, and there's no reason to try to hit it that far," Shaheen said. "We just tried to hit singles and move guys along and put pressure on (Aquinas') defense.

"We did a good job of taking advantage of the situation, rather than trying to fight it. I felt like against Calvary, we were trying to fight a losing battle. So, we changed out here."

As intimidating as the cavernous left-field dimensions can be to right-handed hitters, the shorter porches in center and right can be just as intimidating to visiting pitchers.

However, O'Leary (8-2) combined with starters Strother White and Devin Stanton (6-0) to limit Aquinas to just four runs over the doubleheader, and just a single home run.

"(The pitchers') job is just to battle," said White, who scattered nine hits and three earned runs and struck out five in five-plus innings in Game 2. "We knew if we could win the first (game), then we could take it home. That's what we tried to do."