APPLETON, Wis. – Aaron Thomassen (Jr., Seattle, Wash.) saved his best for last, hurling a six-hit complete game – the first of his career – to carry top-ranked Linfield to a 10-1 victory over No. 14 Southern Maine on the second day of the NCAA Division III Finals at Fox Cities Stadium.
Thomassen had plenty of offense to back him up, as the ‘Cats (40-7) unleashed 17 hits and burned through a record-breaking number of pitchers to advance on the winner’s side of the championship tournament. Starter Logan Carman lasted just two outs after surrendering five runs on five hits in the first, and only three Huskies went more than an inning for Southern Maine (43-9), which set a Finals record by using 10 pitchers over the course of the afternoon.
Jake Wylie (Sr., Eagle, Idaho) and Jordan Harlow each drove in a pair of runs for the Wildcats on two hits apiece, including a home run and a double, respectively. Clayton Truex (Sr., Kirkland, Wash.) went 4-for-5, Corey VanDomelen (Jr., Tigard, Ore.) hit 3-for-4 and Tim Wilson supplied two more singles as Linfield outhit Southern Maine 17-6.
Thomassen struck out nine on the afternoon against two walks, and only one of his six hits went for extra bases. The one was Forrest Chadwick’s fourth-inning solo home run, which blew up the shutout for the Linfield defense. That seemed a small price to pay, however, for limiting the nation's highest-scoring team (Southern Maine averaged 9.5 runs per game entering the Finals) to just one run.
"We did give him a lead early, but you’ve to pitch with that lead and you still have to keep command and keep going," head coach Scott Brosius said of Thomassen's performance on the mound. "He had to sit through some long innings and that can be difficult as well, but he maintained focus and was able to pound the strike zone all day long and that’s huge in this tournament.
Dugout celebrations were plentiful in the first inning as Linfield worked through its entire lineup and put five runs on the board for a commanding lead. Wilson beat out the throw to first for a leadoff single, and moved over to first on VanDomelen’s walk. Nick Fisher (Sr., Lake Oswego, Ore.) ripped a fly ball to left field that cleared the fence, but pulled it too far left to stay fair. Instead of three RBI, then, the junior settled for one, singling to right field to score Wilson.
After Wylie lined out to short, Kramer Lindell (Sr., West Linn, Ore.) followed up with a single through the left side, scoring VanDomelen. A steal put two runners in scoring position for Harlow, who brought both home with a double to the far left corner. Kyle Chamberlain dropped a single behind a diving John Carey at first base, plating Harlow, driving Carman from the game and giving the ‘Cats a hefty five-run cushion.
"I think we did a really good job today, early on especially, eliminating pitches from him and realizing what pitches he’s throwing for strikes and being able to attack those pitches early in the count," Wilson said of Linfield's hot start against Carman. The Little East Conference Pitcher of the Year entered the game with a spotless 12-0 record and 1.62 ERA, but perhaps was not at his best after getting hit in the forearm in regional tournament action.
Thomassen, on the other hand, needed less than 20 pitches to get the first three outs for the Linfield defense. The sophomore right-hander yielded a two-out single to ABCA/Rawlings Player of the Year Tucker White, but set up a fly ball to right field to prevent any real scoring threat from forming.
"I’m always very comfortable when it comes to pitching with a lead," Thomassen said during the postgame press conference. "It makes my job a lot easier. I just throw strikes."
Linfield added another run in the third frame on Truex’ double to the left-center wall. Wylie started things off with a single, and broke up a double play on the next at-bat to allow Lindell to reach. Lindell stole second – one of his two swiped bags for the day – and Truex brought him home to push Linfield’s advantage to six runs.
Michael Hopp drew a leadoff walk to open the fourth frame, and advanced to second on Wilson’s single to center field. VanDomelen scooted a bunt down the third base line, a play that not only advanced both runners but also allowed the shortstop to get on base himself. Fisher grounded into a double play, leaving just one runner on for the Wildcats, but Wylie blasted his eighth home run of the season over the left-field fence to bring Linfield’s advantage to a colossal 9-0 lead.
"We were all seeing the ball real well today," Wylie said. "We go into a game expecting to do well. We go into a game expecting to stick with our approach and hit line drives."
Southern Maine center fielder Chadwick robbed Linfield of a shutout with a solo home run to left center in the Huskies’ half of the inning, but Thomassen came right back with a strikeout to steal the momentum away.
The Wildcats got three more hits through the eighth, but did not score again until the top of the ninth. Back-to-back one-out singles to left from Truex and Harlow put a runner in scoring position for the ‘Cats. Hopp singled up the middle to score one and bring Southern Maine’s 10th pitcher – right fielder Troy Thibodeau – to the mound. He recorded the final defensive out for the Huskies with a fly out to left field.
Southern Maine squeezed one more hit out of Thomassen – Thibodeau’s single just out of VanDomelen’s reach up the middle – before the righty got Zach Fernades to fly out to Jackson Ruckert (Jr., Albany, Ore.) to end the game.
Linfield advances to square off against the tournament's other two-win team: Wisconsin-Stevens Point. As the weekend continues, the competition is bound to get tougher, but Brosius leads a focused yet loose group that is comfortable competing when the stakes are high.
"We play with that type of mentality all year, that every weekend in our conference is a playoff-type mentality," Brosius said. "When you play each game that way, you don't need to change anything when you get into these situations.
"That’s the biggest thing that we talk about. We just don’t change who we are. You can’t be one team all year long then all of a sudden change who you are depending on the situation. You keep playing to your strengths."
'CAT SCRATCH: In addition to Southern Maine's record-breaking 10 pitchers, the game also set a Finals record for most pitchers (11) used by both teams...Ruckert made his first career postseason appearance, taking the field for the final three outs of the game...the Wildcats stole their first three bases of the tournament against the Huskies...Fisher swiped one and Lindell took two...Thomassen lowered his season ERA to 2.49...after commiting four errors in the tournament-opening game against Ithaca, Linfield was defensively perfect against Southern Maine.
OTHER TOURNAMENT ACTION: Two teams went home Saturday...Ithaca made Millsaps' first trip to Appleton a quick one, eliminating the Majors 5-3...Webster defeated Manchester 5-3 to send the Spartans home to Indiana...Wisconsin-Stevens Point trailed Kean 3-1 before scoring thrice in the top of the eighth and hanging on for a 4-3 victory.
NEXT: Linfield and Wisconsin-Stevens Point get underway Sunday at 7 p.m. Central time.
Nine strikeouts, two walks in complete-game victory
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