Close win secures play in NCAA finals

– Julia Long, review staff writer

A haphazard dog pile of enthusiastic, purple-shirted men resulted after the Linfield baseball team pulled off a difficult win over Webster University May 17 at the NCAA Division III Central Regional.

The team competed in Moline, Ill., May 14 through 17 with heartening results, trouncing all five of its competitors and winning its first regional title in 37 years.

The ’Cats’ victory over Webster in the final game of the tournament proved to be a nail-biter. Linfield trailed its opponents, 0-2, for the first seven innings of the game and only managed a tie, 3-3, by the start of the ninth.

Junior outfielder Stew Davis and sophomore third baseman Rhett Fenton each had two hits in the game, while Davis, senior catcher Drew Van Cleave and senior outfielder Kevin Mills all sacrificed RBIs, which allowed for senior second baseman Shannon Chung, senior shortstop David Bachofner and sophomore outfielder Gunnar Cederberg to cross home plate in the eighth.

To end the tie, Linfield capitalized on errors by Webster’s shortstop in the 10th inning which allowed for Chung to bring in his second run of the game.

“It’s hard to explain the feeling of watching Shannon come across the plate for the winning run,” senior first baseman Ty Stanley said. “All year, we have been able to come from behind and pull out some wins, and being able to perservere late in the ball game was really
exciting.”

Sophomore Garret Dorn pitched for the first eight innings and struck out seven of Webster’s batters before three relievers, ending with freshman Evan Hilberg, finished the game. Hillberg kept the Gorlocks at bay through the 10th inning, sealing the deal for the Wildcats. 

The team battled its way to the Webster game after defeating both Augustana College, 10-1, earlier in the day and Wartburg College, 7-5, May 16.

Bachofner, Mills, Davis and junior second baseman Cory Ellis each had a multi-hit game against Wartburg, contributing to the ’Cats’ six-run lead by the end of the third inning. After Wartburg closed the gap to 6-3 in the seventh, Bachofner nailed his sixth home run of the season. Wartburg logged in two additional runs in the eighth but could not overcome Linfield’s lead in the end.

The crushing victory over Augustana boosted the team morale for the subsequent game against Webster. Senior Joshua Guterman made his debut on the mound for six solid innings with four strikeouts and only five hits. The 10-run triumph included two home runs by Fenton and Davis managing three hits for four times at bat.

In response to on his success through the regional tournament, Fenton said a change in attitude has significantly supported his positive performance.

“I have looked at the playoffs as a second season,” Fenton said. “It is a chance to re-prove myself and boost my confidence. I took the pressure to perform off myself and focused on having fun, playing loose and trusting that the results would come if I continued to work hard.”

A great team dynamic was the key factor in the team’s success, Chung said.

The initial loss against University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point at the beginning of the regional tournament placed the Wildcats in the consolation bracket, but they were able to turn their frustration into gumption and overcome their loss.

“After losing the first game, we knew we had our work cut out for us,” Stanley said. “We approached elimination no different than any other game. We felt like we were the best team in the region and as long as we focused on the fundamentals, good things would happen for us.”

The Linfield ballplayers will have the chance to put their abilities to the test when they grace Appleton, Wis., for the NCAA Division III Finals today, when they
face University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The team will join eight others as it contends for a win to kickstart the tournament.

This is the Wildcats’ first trip to the national championship since 1971.

“As the team puts it, the regional tournament was one of the pieces of the puzzle, and winning the national championship is our last piece,” Chung said. 

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