Linfield Junior Tim Wilson settled under a fly ball coming down from the Texas sky once again, and he let the ball land in his glove.
Linfield fans everywhere could finally exhale. The ‘Cats did it.
Wilson’s catch was out number three in the bottom of the ninth of a 3-1 victory against the Trinity University (Texas) Tigers. The Linfield Wildcats baseball team is now going to the Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wis.
The celebration was, as junior Kramer Lindell described it, “pure elation.”
“It feels absolutely amazing. I don’t even know if it has sunk in to be honest,” Lindell said.
Senior Michael Hopp said, “When I saw Timmy making the catch, I just threw my hands up and ran to the dogpile.”
“I got smacked by all the players,” sophomore Chris Haddeland said, who was at the bottom of the dogpile.
Haddeland pitched the final 5 2/3 innings of the 3-1 victory. He gave up zero runs on five hits and struck out three. Because of his effort, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Austin Regional.
He also threw a complete game two-hit shutout on May 15, and picked up the save in 1 1/3 innings of a 4-3 win May 17 against Trinity. In total, he pitched 16 innings. He gave up seven hits. He walked zero hitters and struck out 12. He did not give up a run.
“I’m happy we have the opportunity to go to Wisconsin…it is a cool award, but a lot of the credit goes to my defense. We definitely wouldn’t be in the position we are right now without the defense,” Haddeland said.
That defense, especially the outfield, had to deal with temperatures in the ’90s and a strong wind blowing out to left field. Sophomore Aaron Thomassen, the winning pitcher against Pomona-Pitzer earlier in the week, acknowledged that the wind was a problem all week, and so did Wilson and outfielders Lindell and junior Nick Fisher.
“It took right field out of play essentially…I just had to rely on good jumps and focus on getting way behind the ball. Fortunately, running down fly balls is one of my favorite things to do,” Lindell said.
Before Wilson made the final out, he had to make another catch at the wall, and in the game before—a 3-2 Linfield loss to Trinity—he was helped on the offensive side by the wind for an inside-the-park home run.
“I knew that I struck the ball well on contact and having the wind blowing out would make it a difficult play for their center fielder. I saw him catch it, so I slowed down a bit, but then I saw the ball come free as he hit the wall and it was off to the races from there. That was my first inside-the-park home run,” Wilson said.
“The wind was something we paid attention to all weekend. It was very stiff,” Fisher said.
Fisher also hit two home runs this week after moving up to third in the lineup. This move was necessitated after junior Jake Wylie suffered a sprained ankle in the first game of the tournament.
Wylie, of course, led the team in RBI this year and was third in batting average. A loss like this was handled with a resilient team effort for the next two games—an 8-3 win against Pomona-Pitzer and a 4-3 win against Trinity.
Wylie’s replacement in the lineup was Hopp. Wilson moved to left field and Hopp took over second.
“When [Wylie] first got hurt, I was getting my mind in the right spot…I was ready to step up and help my team…win. Usually it’s my defense that helps the team. Fortunately, my bat came to the plate this weekend,” Hopp said.
Against Pomona-Pitzer, Hopp went 3-5 with two RBI. In the 4-3 win against Trinity, he went 2-3 with an RBI. When the tournament was finished, Hopp was named to the All-Tournament team.
“From being a guy off the bench to become a member of the All-Tournament team is surreal for me. I’m glad the voters recognized me for a good weekend,” Hopp said.
Hopp joined Wilson, Haddeland, Thomassen and Fisher on the All-Tournament team.
Hopp was joined by other unsung contributors such as Joe Stevick, who made a quality start in just his second start of the season.
Don’t forget junior Justin Huckins, who made his first start of the season in the final game against Trinity before handing the ball to Haddeland.
And, of course, this team would not be as successful without sure-handed senior third baseman Jordan Harlow and senior catcher Kyle Chamberlain, who caught every inning this week except for the first six of the 3-1 win.
Those six innings were caught by freshman Kruze Mingus, who did not get to play much at all this year until this game.
“We stayed very confident even after the game one loss. We have yet to lose to a team twice this year, so we knew that Trinity had to play its best game for a chance to beat us,” said Wilson.
Every player stepped up in some way, so despite losing the first game of the day 3-2, the Wildcats showed resilience and responded against a team that many of the players said had the deepest pitching staff they had faced all year.
Resilience is great, but it is often spawned by unfortunate events, and without Wylie’s injury, Hopp may not have been in the lineup. But Wylie did return for the final two games of the tournament, and he announced his presence with the go-ahead RBI single in the 3-1 win.
Wylie said, “In an important game like that, you just have to block the pain.”
When asked about what he will be doing to heal this week, he laughed and said, “Lots of ice. I should be able to sprint on it pretty soon.”
Speaking of ice, Haddeland may need some for his arm. It was clear that he had lower velocity during the 3-1 win, but he said he will be ready to go by the first game on Friday against Ithaca College.
Wilson, who was on the wildcat team that lost in the Texas regional two years ago, said, “it felt like we took care of some unfinished business that we left in Texas two years ago.”
They took care of business in Austin. Now they have business in Appleton. Just like Wylie hopes to sprint, this Wildcat team is excited for Appleton and they hope to win it all. The catch by Wilson was another event in what has been an amazing season.
So amazing in fact, that sophomore shortstop Corey VanDomelen said he “didn’t want to fall asleep because there is nothing that could make me any happier right at this moment. It’s pure joy.”
Well, there is one thing that could possibly be more amazing, and it is a Division III College World Series Championship.
Tyler Bradley/Sports Columnist
Tyler Bradley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org