APPLETON, Wis. – One run in the sixth inning and another in the ninth propelled Ithaca to a 6-4 victory over Linfield Monday afternoon at Fox Cities Stadium, keeping the Bombers alive and sending the Wildcats to a winner-take-all championship game on Tuesday.
Pitchers Spencer Metzsch (Jr., Aloha, Ore.), Cody Erautt (So., Yucaipa, Calif.), and Cody Walker (So., Hood River, Ore.) pieced together a staff effort for Linfield while Ithaca relied on its pitching ace, first team All-American Pat Lemmo, who threw seven solid innings to keep the Bombers in contention for a national title.
The ‘Cats (41-8) captured an early 2-0 lead and had plenty of scoring opportunities throughout the game on nine hits, two Ithaca defensive errors, a hit batter and a passed ball, but left seven runners stranded and were not their typical sharp selves on the base paths.
“We definitely came out and wanted to win. The first inning definitely exemplified that,” said left fielder and co-team captain Tim Wilson. “We were swinging the bats well, we hit balls hard all day, we were lining out to people, and that’s just baseball.”
“One thing Coach Brosius preaches is approaching each game with consistency,” added fellow team captain, third baseman Jordan Harlow. “I think we’ve done that all year and we did that today but just didn’t come out on top.”
Jake Wylie (Sr., Eagle, Idaho) and Kyle Chamberlain each had a pair of hits and one RBI for Linfield, which plays the winner of the Ithaca-Southern Maine matchup for the national championship.
Christian Brown, Tim Locastro and Corey Caswell supplied two hits each as the Bombers (41-7) avenged an 8-6 first-round defeat to the Wildcats.
With a sophomore 6-foot-5 righty taking the mound for his first career start on just 1 1/3 varsity innings, the Linfield defense gave Metzsch solid support in the early going. Wilson made a full-extension, diving catch on a fly ball to shallow left field, and after a single snuck by the infield for a base hit, Kramer Lindell (Sr., West Linn, Ore.) and Wilson recorded the final two outs on a pair of routine flies.
“Every guy that we put on the mound we have confidence in,” head coach Scott Brosius said of the decision to start Metzsch and bring in a pair of rookie relievers. “They wouldn’t be on this trip if we didn’t feel like they could get the job done.”
Like a record on repeat, Wilson once again sparked the Wildcat offense in the leadoff spot, beating out a ground ball to Locastro at short in the bottom of the first. Linfield’s All-American advanced to second on a bunt by Corey VanDomelen (Jr., Tigard, Ore.) and then to third on a fly ball to center by Nick Fisher (Sr., Lake Oswego, Ore.).
Jake Wylie (Sr., Eagle, Idaho) followed with his 66th RBI of the season with a base hit to left as VanDomelen slid under Caswell's tag in a close play at the plate to give Linfield 2-0 lead. Moving to third on a base hit by Clayton Truex (Sr., Kirkland, Wash.), Wylie was thrown out at home trying to score on a wild pitch.
“We didn’t play today’s game any different than we’ve played any other game,” Brosius said when asked if the team was overly aggressive on the base paths. “That’s something that you always want to try to do, is just put pressure on the other team on the bases, and you pick the appropriate moments to try to take the extra base.”
Ithaca responded in the top of the second when a deep fly ball from Matt Connolly sent Wilson drifting back towards the fence. Wilson leapt at the wall, but the ball glanced off the foul pole for a solo home run that cut the Wildcats’ lead in half.
Linfield manufactured a run in the fourth when a ground ball from Michael Hopp brought home Harlow, making the score 3-1. Harlow led off the inning when his chopper up the right side eluded Connolly at first base, and worked his way to third on Chamberlain’s single through the right side. With one out and a runner on second, Locastro got the Ithaca defense out of the jam by snaring Wilson’s line drive and making a lightning-quick toss back to second to get Chamberlain out.
Fighting for its life, Ithaca responded with one of its trademark rallies in the fifth. Colby Gee’s single up the middle took a nasty hop and made its way onto the grass, plating Brown. A game-tying RBI double from Caswell knotted the score at 3-3 and drove Metzsch from the game.
Pinch hitter Vinny Gneo put the Bombers in front for good with a base hit to right field off fresh Wildcats reliever Erautt.
The Bombers added another run in the sixth on Locastro’s RBI single. Linfield countered with an RBI double from Chamberlain to stay within reach at 5-4.
Ithaca brought into a new pitcher to start the ninth, Jimmy Wagner, who drilled his first pitch into Lindell’s back to give the Wildcats a man on and two outs to work with. Truex moved the runner over with a sacrifice bunt before Lindell advanced to third on a passed ball.
Harlow’s subsequent groundout to first was a bit messy, as Wagner took it himself before handing off to Tim Henry, who barely applied the tag in time. During the scuffle, Lindell might have had an opportunity to advance home, but did not break for the plate, and Chamberlain’s fly out to left field left yet another runner stranded for Linfield.
Ithaca added an insurance run in the ninth when a fielding error and a broken-up double play prolonged the inning and allowed Locastro to eventually score. Locastro drew a one-out walk, and advanced to third on Henry’s grounder that was mishandled by the Wildcat infield. Gee sent another grounder up the middle, this one straight to Hopp, who stepped on the bag for the forced out. But after getting the second out and looking to turn the double play, Hopp was knocked over by a sliding Henry and the throw to first went wide, allowing Gee to reach and Locastro to cross home.
As the designated home team, Linfield had one more shot at remaining unbeaten, but Wagner shut down the Wildcats’ 9-1-2 hitters, ending the game on a called third strike to give the team from New York one more day in the Midwest.
Even with the loss, the Wildcats have a shot at their first NCAA championship and third overall national title. But Linfield will play in just one game for all the marbles.
“The truth is we’ve played in big games all year,” Brosius said. “You don’t all of a sudden try harder because a game supposedly means more than another game. You treat every game like they’re equally meaningful. With that mentality, we come into tomorrow knowing nothing changes. We go attack it the same way we’ve attacked it all year long.”
‘CAT SCRATCH: Metzsch, Erraut and Walker saw their first action since Linfield’s mid-April California trip...Ithaca won its first victory over the Wildcats in four tries...Linfield failed to steal a base for the third time in the national tournament...three Wildcats (Wylie, Truex and Lindell) are hitting .400 or better through four games at the Finals...the Wildcats have already smacked 11 extra-base hits, including eight doubles.
OTHER TOURNAMENT ACTION: Southern Maine eliminated Wisconsin-Stevens Point 8-1.
NEXT: Ithaca plays Southern Maine Tuesday morning at 11 a.m. Central Time. The winner earns the opportunity to play Linfield in a single game that will determine the national champion.