What's the best thing about scoring twice in the 10th inning to win a baseball game, 9-8? It's when it means your team wins a national championship.
That's what happened on the hot afternoon of June 9, 1971, when the Linfield College Wildcats (28-11) beat Lipscomb University of Tennessee at the NAIA World Series in Phoenix, Ariz., Municipal Stadium.
The title came in Ad Rutschman's first year as Linfield baseball coach. It was the second national championship sports team for Linfield. The first, also in baseball, came in 1966 when Roy Helser was coach. Later, Rutschman led Linfield to three NAIA football national championships. He's the only college coach at any level to have won national titles in both football and baseball.
Team letter winners, most of them juniors and Oregon high school graduates, were Mike Avery, Tom Briggs, John Buck, Mike Cahill, Cary Clancy, Vince Doherty, Mike Maley, Jim Owens, Kip Patterson, Glen Plagman, Dave Robertson, Mike Smithey, Mike Springer, Dennis Stevens, Spencer Wales, Bob Walker, Greg Walsh, Dan Waritz, and Ron Webb. Jim Corley was assistant coach. In addition to the NAIA World Series title, the team won the Northwest Conference, NAIA District 2, and NAIA West Coast Area.
In fall 1968, when most of the players on the 1971 team were freshmen, Helser was prophetic, Patterson and Maley remember. "He told us we would win a national championship before we finished playing at Linfield," said Patterson. "Being freshmen, we scoffed at that. But, we knew we were in a great program. Although we didn't win conference in 1969, we learned a very successful system and in 1970, Coach Helser's last season, we won conference and lost at district."
The Rutschman baseball coaching era began in the upstairs of old Riley Gym. Said Maley, "Coach told us he didn't care how good we thought we were, or what all-star honors everyone had, we were going to hit and play his way. We knew things were going to be different!"
Three-to-four hour practices were a time of repetition and stressing fundamentals. The goal was perfection. Practices included hitting whiffle balls, pepper games, hitting off machines and live batting practice. In addition, the team worked on other aspects of the game, including base stealing, bunting and defensive situations.
Rutschman was a task master. "We became aware very early of what happened when we made mistakes. That usually was 20-30 minutes of sprints and then back to the same drill. To put it bluntly, we were a well conditioned team that year, because we made a lot of mistakes. But, we knew what we wanted out of it and it proved very worthwhile in the end," said Maley.
The Wildcats started the 1971 season in California in March with a three-game sweep of Sacramento State.
Northwest Conference play began inauspiciously March 27 with a 6-2 loss to Whitman. But that was one of only four NWC losses against 14 wins.
Home games were played as they are now on campus. But, it was called the New Baseball Field until 1973, when it was dedicated in Helser's honor.
The Wildcats won the NWC by beating Lewis and Clark in Portland on May 8 by the same 2-1 score in both games of a double header. It was a battle almost every conference game. Albertson College (then College of Idaho), Pacific and Lewis & Clark, which followed Linfield in order in final conference standings, all had good teams. "But, we had confidence in each other on the field. We always seemed able to scratch together a win because of how Coach Rutschman worked so much on the intricate parts of the game to get that one- or two-run lead," said Patterson.
After winning conference, the Wildcats won a best two out of three Friday-Saturday NAIA District 2 series with Western Oregon University. Playing in McMinnville, the Wildcats lost the Friday opener, 9-3, but came back on a cold and windy Saturday to win 6-1 and 9-2. Doherty pitched all nine innings in Saturday's first game and five innings in the second before being relieved by Stevens.
Next, at the NAIA West Coast area tournament in Klamath Falls, Linfield's bats came alive. At Kiger Stadium, Linfield beat Montana State University-Northern, 16-2, in the first game and then Central Washington, 4-0. The Wildcats beat Central again, 11-5, on May 29. Shortstop Avery was a batting phenom and won the tourney MVP award. Unlike some of the other schools in the tournament, Linfield's academic year was over. So Wildcat players concentrated on baseball. They did not have to worry about classes, class work or finals.
The next week, Linfield prepared for the World Series. In Hillsboro, the team practiced and played an exhibition doubleheader against a Hillsboro town team. Originally, they were going to drive to Phoenix in vans. But, Del Smith of Evergreen International Aviation of McMinnville paid to fly the team down and back. For many of the Linfield players, it was their first time flying.
At the NAIA World Series, June 4-9, Grand Canyon University of Phoenix was overall and hometown favorite of the eight teams. In the opening game, the Wildcats fell behind 5-0, but came back to win 10-9. When Grand Canyon was eliminated, many of the local fans started cheering for Linfield.
One of the Wildcats' big breaks in the Series came by winning the first game over Grand Canyon. They were in the winners' bracket. Because they won, they continued to play games at night. Considering the high daytime temperatures, this was a definite advantage.
The Wildcats fell behind in many of their six World Series games, but never lost faith that they could fight back and win. They beat Southwest Oklahoma State, 9-6; Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 6-5; and Lewis University of Illinois, 7-2.
Then came Lipscomb. For the first time in the series, the Wildcats did not come from behind. They lost, 7-6.
This set up another game with Lipscomb (43-15) for the title. Lipscomb took a 1-0 lead, only to have Linfield score six runs in the top of the second, for a 6-1 margin. The Wildcats added a run in the sixth inning to lead 7-1. But, Lipscomb outscored Linfield 5-0 in the final three innings to force the game into the 10th inning.
In the top of the 10th, the decisive runs were scored in the space of three batters. Pitcher Doherty started the rally with a one-out single. Leadoff batter Glen Plagman followed with a triple to left- center, scoring Doherty for an 8-7 Linfield lead. Springer followed immediately with a single to right to bring in Plagman for 9-7. Springer hit a right field single, driving in Glen Plagman.
Lipscomb rallied in the bottom of the 10th, scoring one run, but Doherty struck out the clean-up batter with the tying run on base to end the championship game. Linfield won its second NAIA World Series.
After the on-field celebration, the team rode the bus from the stadium to its motel in a state of temporary disbelief. Then, the impact of the win sank in and it became very quiet. "We kept looking at each other and saying, we did it. We really did it!' We wanted to reinforce ourselves that it was not a dream," Patterson said.
Linfield World Series honors included four all-tournament selections: catcher Webb, .448 batting average, MVP; first base Springer, .481, Bronze Glove; and pitchers Doherty (3-1, 5.60 ERA) and Wales (1-0 and a save, 2.63 ERA).
The players and coaches were thankful for their fan support at the World Series. Fans included Irv Walsh and other parents, wives and girlfriends and others, including Dave Hansen and Bruce Baldwin, Linfield faculty members; alum Tom Sutro and student Phil Hankins, who was a graduate assistant baseball coach.
Since Hansen, Baldwin, Sutro and Hankins had gone to K-Falls to support the team and saw the Wildcats win, they decided to travel to Phoenix, too. Linfield President Gordon Bjork, lent them his big Chrysler for the trip.
After the opening win over Grand Canyon, the quartet adopted the same routine each night so as to not break Linfield's baseball momentum. They went swimming in the motel pool, then to Bill Johnson's Big Apple restaurant for deep dish apple pie a la mode. "It was the most superstitious I have ever been," Hansen said.
"We thought of Linfield as underdogs. Because of that, we kept rearranging plans to stay longer as the team won more games. Though few in number, the Linfield crowd base was very noisy . . . and the stadium personnel actually came by to ask us to tone it down," Hansen added.
As soon as the championship game ended, the four fans drove 1,350 miles from Phoenix to Portland in time to meet the Linfield team when it left the plane at Portland International Airport.
When the team returned to McMinnville from Portland, there was a community celebration in downtown McMinnville. The team stood on a flatbed truck. On Third Street, on the Mack Theater marquee, the reader board said: "Ad Rutschman's "Don't Mess With My Wildcats"
Being on Linfield's national championship team was a life-changing moment, say 1971 players. "Our will to be winners and Coach Rutschman's style blended perfectly," said Springer. Added Webb, "It's great to play for a winner. And, the coach is a winner."
Players on the team said they respected each other and had a tremendous amount of confidence in all players, starters and role players alike.
Added Rutschman, "It was tremendous. I can't say enough for the players. They worked hard and are certainly deserving of the championship. In the pressure of the World Series, their hitting was spectacular and defense of Major League caliber. They will forever have my pride and respect."
In a 1971 editorial, The Oregonian, Portland's daily newspaper, summed up the Linfield baseball championship season: "In an era when college sports, with big budgets and expensive recruiting, are under fire from all quarters, it is a pleasure to see a national championship won by Oregon kids playing on an athletic shoestring."