Big Sixth Inning Marches Cougars Into Semifinals

Concordia Chicago Baseball

Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago

WHITEWATER, Wisconsin -- Tonight's second-round game in the NCAA III Midwest Regional matched up a pair of somewhat familiar opponents. Concordia University Chicago and Adrian College had met three times previous in regionals – once in 2013 and twice in 2014, with the Bulldogs winning two of three. The series is now even after a four-run sixth inning lifted the Cougars to a 6-2 win and sent them into tomorrow's semifinal round.

Both starting pitchers, Keaton Conner of CUC and Pierce Banks of Adrian, were effective from the get-go. Conner used a good mixture of pitches in getting three strikeouts over the first three innings as well as a 6-4-3 double play to erase a leadoff walk in the second. Banks had a lively fastball and was able to strand two CUC runners in scoring position in the first and third innings.

The Bulldogs broke through in the fourth. Ryan Dorow was hit by a pitch and was at second with two out when Gunner Rainey walked. Tristin Richardson then swung at the first pitch and lined it to right-center for a 1-0 lead.

The Cougars were ripe to answer when they came to bat. Kevin Coppin coaxed a leadoff walk, and Justin Rodriguez laced the first pitch he saw over the third baseman's head for a single. A wild pitch moved up both runners before Doug Matthews hit one deep to left-center. The ball one-hopped the wall, Coppin scoring while Rodriguez had to hold at third. Banks came back to get the first out of the inning, but Brendan Klein then grounded one to shortstop with the infield back, and he was thrown out at first while Rodriguez scored for a 2-1 CUC lead.

Adrian came back to tie in the fifth. With runners on the corners and two out. Dugan Darnell hit a chopper to the third-base side of the pitcher's mound. However, the throw to first went wild, and the lead runner crossed the plate. Emotions on both sides were building as the Cougars again threatened to score in the bottom of the third. A single by Joe Silva and double by Brent Spohr had CUC in prime scoring position, but a play at the plate saw Silva cut down, and the inning ended, still tied 2-2.

While it seemed as if Adrian might ride the momentum from the fifth inning, it was CUC that took it back after Conner worked a 1-2-3 sixth. Kevin Garvey walked with one out, and Klein singled through the hole on the right side. Bryan VanDuser then lifted a fly to right-center that fell; between the outfielders. The play at the plate was close, but Garvey slid under the tag as CUC took a 3-2 lead. Silva then walked on a 3-2 pitch, culminating an excellent at-bat that loaded the bases. Spohr then stepped up with the biggest hit of the game, grounding a 2-2 pitch back up the middle. Klein and VanDuser came in to score, and when the throw from center got past the third baseman and rolled around in Prucha Field's expansive foul territory, Silva followed across the plate for a 6-2 Cougars' lead.

Mike Formella took over on the mound to start the seventh, and he was razor-sharp as he caught the first two batters looking at a third strike. Formella went on to earn the three-inning save, striking out five and not allowing a walk. The Bulldogs scratched five hits off Formella, two of them the infield variety, but one of those was quickly erased as an alert Matthews caught the lead runner rounding second base too far. A quick throw caught the runner in a rundown, and he was tagged out to end the eighth inning.

The Cougars added an insurance run in the eighth. VanDuser led off with his third hit of the game and quickly stole second. He would score moments later when Spohr collected his third hit and third RBI of the night with a single inside the line in right.

Coppin would finish off a strong defensive game for the Cougars in the ninth. He caught one runner off first base for the first out of the inning. He then ended the game throwing out a base stealer as part of a "strike 'em out, throw 'em out" double play.

Cougars' head coach Mike Stawski lauded his pitching once again, noting that Conner's effort was "unbelievable" and Formella's effort in shutting the door. Stawski also praised his team's ability to have fun bit do the job on the field at the same time. "Our guys know that if they play the game hard, they'll have my respect. It's funny how, when you play the game hard, good things tend to happen."

The Cougars will now play for the right to advance to the championship round when they play the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse at 4:30 Saturday afternoon. LaCrosse was a 5-2 winner over the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Friday's other winner's bracket game.