Game 11 Box Score
AUSTIN, Texas – Gutsy performances are what get it done in the playoffs, and Linfield got plenty on Saturday.
Setting a single-season wins record and defeating the same Top 10 club two out of three times on back-to-back days, top-ranked Linfield (38-7) advanced to the NCAA Division III Baseball Finals for the third time in program history after scratching out 3-1 win over sixth-ranked Trinity (40-9) in the final game played at Tornado Field.
“Difficult, grind, exciting and gut-wrenching,” are the words head coach Scott Brosius used to describe the last day of the Austin Regional, which came down to a season-on-the-line doubleheader between the Wildcats and Tigers.
After missing the previous two games due to an injury sustained in the first inning of Wednesday’s opener, Jake Wylie (Sr., Eagle, Idaho) returned to the Linfield lineup Saturday as the team’s designated hitter. The junior delivered a game-winning RBI single in Game 11 to spark the ‘Cats to a 3-1 lead heading into the seventh, needing to record just nine defensive outs to earn a return trip to Appleton.
Pitching in his third game of the tournament, ace Chris Haddeland (Jr., McMinnville, Ore.) held the Tigers scoreless over the final 5 2/3 innings to pick up the victory, his 13th of the year. Linfield's righty pitched an incredible 16 scoreless innings in Austin, racking up 12 strikeouts against zero walks for two wins, a save and recognition as the tournament MVP.
A third regional championship in seven years did not come without drama for the Wildcats, who lost a 3-2 contest to the Tigers in the noon game before bouncing back for a 3-1 win in the afternoon.
“Trinity is a very good team. We knew that we were going to be in a dogfight all day long,” Brosius said. “After a disappointing first game, when we were right there in such a close game, I just thought we did a great job of regrouping and resetting ourselves emotionally and physically to play a very strong second game.”
Wylie, Corey VanDomelen (Jr., Tigard, Ore.) and Nick Fisher (Sr., Lake Oswego, Ore.) each registered two hits for the Wildcats in Game 11. Defensively, four Linfield pitchers held the Tigers to just four combined runs over two games.
Game 10: Trinity 3, Linfield 2
Senior third baseman Kevin Francke supplied a game-winning sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth as the Tigers extended their season for one more game.
A fourth-day pitchers’ duel between underclassmen Joseph Stevick (Jr., Bremerton, Wash.) and Ryan Gray left both teams scoreless through five innings. It was a first for the Wildcats, who had put up at least one run in the opening frame in their first three tournament games.
Stevick made his postseason debut by throwing five straight strikes, and sailed through the first inning with two strikeouts and a groundout to third to retire the side. But Gray matched his counterpart’s performance by doing what no pitcher had yet done against Linfield’s 1-2-3 hitters in regional action, getting three straight outs to keep the ‘Cats off the scoreboard.
Both teams put a man on base in their respective halves of the second – Trinity on a fielding error and Linfield on a walk – but neither runner had an opportunity to advance.
The Tigers drew first blood in the third, when Jeremy Wolf doubled to center field. But Kelly Woodruff grounded out to third, allowing Jordan Harlow to hold Wolf at second, and Stevick drew another groundout from Francke to strand the runner.
Wilson sliced a two-out single over the pitcher’s mound and smack into the rubber at second for a base hit, but was caught stealing during the next at-bat to end the inning.
Again in the fourth, Trinity reached on a Linfield fielding error. But Harlow redeemed himself by charging a short pop up, and Fisher caught a fly ball in right to bring the ‘Cats back to the plate.
Fisher and Wylie fired consecutive ground balls to Francke, who deftly handled the hard-hit balls for easy outs from third to first.
Trinity finally struck gold in the top of the sixth. Connor Moore drew a leadoff walk, and worked his way around the bags on Francke’s sacrifice bunt and a single by Christian Muscarello. Stevick attempted to make a play on the latter – like he had twice in the fifth – but after striking the righty on his throwing hand, the ball continued on to advance Moore to third.
Pat Hirschberg stepped into the box, and delivered another single up the middle to bring Trinity’s leadoff man home. With runners at first and second, Stevick coaxed Will Donnan into a pop out to VanDomelen along the left-field line to keep the score at 1-0.
The ‘Cats responded in their half of the sixth with an old-fashioned manufactured run. Tim Wilson beat out a bad throw to first, and moved to second on a beautiful bunt laid down by VanDomelen right in front of the plate. Fisher blasted a single through the left side to score Wilson, knot the score at 1-1 and drive Gray from the game.
Facing a new pitcher, Wylie followed up with a single to the gap in right to advance Fisher to third, but Troy Ward got Kramer Lindell (Sr., West Linn, Ore.) to ground into a double play, leaving Linfield 90 feet short of taking the lead.
In the sixth, Trinity put two runners on when consecutive throws from Hopp and Stevick – who went down on his knees to gather a bunt – did not make it to first in time. A walk loaded the bases and drew Garett Speyer (Sr., Vancouver, Wash.) from the bullpen. The junior’s second pitch went wild, allowing Wolf to score from third, and Francke’s sacrifice fly plated the game-winning run.
Wilson pulled Linfield to within one with an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the eighth. Hirschberg pulled Wilson’s fly ball out of the air on the warning track in center field, but crashed into the wall and dropped the ball on his way to the turf, leaving plenty of time for Linfield’s speedy left fielder to round the bases.
Despite giving a couple of free passes on a hit batter and a walk, reliever Michael Bentz recorded two strikeouts and a fly out to get the save and force a second game.
Ward picked up the win – his first of the year – for the Tigers, while Wolf and Woodruff registered two hits apiece to pace the offense.
Game 11: Linfield 3, Trinity 1
Hirschberg launched a solo home run over the left-field fence to give the Tigers an early lead before the ‘Cats knotted the score in their half of the second inning and tacked on two more runs in the sixth to keep their season alive.
Fisher notched the first hit of the game on a two-out line drive to the right-center gap, but was tagged sliding into second on an attempted steal for the third out.
Justin Huckins (Sr., Bend, Ore.) got the start for Linfield after pitching 2.1 relief innings the previous day. After giving up a solo roundtripper to Hirschberg and a single to Wolf in the second frame, he retired the next five Trinity hitters, stalling the Tigers while the Wildcat offense heated up.
In the bottom half of the second, Lindell and Truex reached on a base on balls and hit by pitch, respectively. They both advanced one base on Tanner Barron's balk, and Lindell scored on Harlow's groundout to second to pull the 'Cats even with Trinity.
Michael Hopp drew a walk to open the third inning, and advanced to second on a passed ball to give Linfield another runner in scoring position. VanDomelen pushed the second baseman to third on a groundout to first, but another groundout dashed any hopes of pulling ahead for the time being.
Trinity and Linfield each took their shots at the depleting or weary bullpens through the fourth and fifth frame, but both defenses held strong. Linfield turned a double play to end the fifth, and Barron far from panicked when Kyle Chamberlain drilled a line drive his way, making the throw to first even as he lost his glove.
Back-to-back singles from VanDomelen and Fisher put a pair of runners on base for Wylie. Staring down a new pitcher for the second time in as many games, Linfield’s designated hitter was an unwelcome host to Zach Speer, shooting an RBI single to left field to plate VanDomelen and give the ‘Cats a 2-1 lead. Trinity turned a double play on the next at-bat, but Fisher advanced to third on the play and came around to score on a single from Clayton Truex (Sr., Kirkland, Wash.).
The seventh inning brought another Trinity pitcher as well as controversy on the inning’s final out. Theodore Turner took the mound for the Tigers, and surrendered a single to Hopp before Wilson got on base via a fielder’s choice.
During the next play, VanDomelen glanced a single off Turner, and as the ball traveled upfield, it tagged Wilson. The umpire ruled the play dead and called Wilson out, but the Linfield coaching staff directed Wilson and VanDomelen to continue running the bags. An official protest was filed, resulting in an approximately 20-minute delay that resulted in an unfavorable outcome for the Wildcats, as the call was not overturned.
Haddeland worked himself into a jam in the eighth, beaning Moore and yielding a single to Muscarello. The Linfield defense came through for its pitcher, however, as Hopp turned a double play on a throw to first; Muscarello was called out at second for interference.
Lindell looped a two-out double to center field in the bottom of the ninth, but a groundout prevented the Wildcats from adding on another insurance run.
It made no difference in the end, because Wilson caught three fly balls in left to end the game and send the Wildcats to their second dogpile of the season.
Franklin Bay took the loss for the Tigers after giving up both runs in the sixth. Donnan finished 2-for-4 in his final game in a Trinity uniform.
Aside from Linfield's 8-3 win over Pomona-Pitzer, all games in the Austin Regional were decided by two runs or less, including six one-run nailbiters. The eight runs scored by the Wildcats in Game 5 were also the highest of any contest; the next largest offensive output was four runs.
"Every championship team is going to get tested at some point," Brosius said. "This was a very strong tournament. Very difficult field in terms of scoring runs...That's something that you can develop, a comfort with playing tight games, and certainly we'll expect more of the same in the national tournament."
Linfield used seven different pitchers throughout the tournament, including two who had less than 20 innings of live action during the regular season.
"There have been some guys waiting all year long for opportunities, and it was really neat to see guys grab those opportunities and make the most of them," Brosius said. "Stevick was just outstanding in the first game, gave us more than we even hoped for, and Speyer came in and did a great job. We really pitched it well enough to win that game and just came up a little short offensively.
"We asked the same of Huckins in the second game, his second time pitching in the tournament, hoping to get two to three innings out of him. He got us a little past three innings and Haddeland was able to come in and give us really an amazing effort throughout the tournament. No question, pitching was a big part of this regional."
‘CAT SCRATCH: Five Wildcats – Wilson, Fisher, Hopp, Haddeland and Aaron Thomassen (Jr., Seattle, Wash.) were named to the all-tournament team…Haddeland was honored as the most outstanding player…Hopp led the tournament with a .500 (6-for-12) average and had the second highest on-base percentage (.571)...Fisher paced the team with seven hits, five RBI and 14 total bases...Wilson, Harlow, Wylie and VanDomelen each had four or more hits...Kruze Mingus made his first career postseason appearance before Chamberlain resumed catching responsibilities 2/3 of the way through Game 10...Speyer and Kenny Johnson (Sr., Federal Way, Wash.) also made their playoff debuts...the Wildcat pitching staff recorded a 1.60 ERA for the tournament...Haddeland lowered his season ERA to a miniscule 0.99...Linfield improved its all-time record against Trinity to 3-1…the Tigers have lost two straight regional championship games to teams from the Northwest Conference…Trinity lost to Whitworth last season in McMinnville.
TRAVEL PLANS: Linfield flies directly from Austin to Portland, arriving back in McMinnville at approximately 1 a.m. Sunday morning.
NEXT: The Wildcats face off against Ithaca Friday at 1:15 CDT at Time Warner Cable Field and Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis.
Photos courtesy of Concordia (Texas) Sports Information
Third regional championship of the past decade
Director of Sports Information
McMinnville, OR 97128