Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago
APPLETON, Wisconsin -- The Concordia University Chicago Cougars came into this morning's game versus Oswego State looking to keep their 2017 season alive in an elimination game. It would not be an easy task, owing to both the opponent – Oswego State (32-10), the top overall seed in this NCAA Division III Championship Finals – and to the fact that CUC would play today without All-American shortstop Bryan VanDuser. However, the mental toughness that has characterized this year's Cougar team came to the forefront today. The Cougars grabbed the lead early and never looked back, defeating the Lakers 9-4 and living to play another day.
The Cougars drew first blood with one out in the first. Joe Silva was hit by a pitch, and Brent Spohr looped a single just inside the rightfield line as Silva took third. Mitch Wilson then found the hole between third and short, his single scoring Silva with the game's first run. After a fly to left for the second out, Justin Rodriguez hit a liner over the shortstop's glove into left-center. Spohr raced around to score and give CUC a 2-0 lead.
The 2-3-4 part of the order added another run in the third. Silva drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Spohr's infield roller to the pitcher. Wilson then made it a 3-0 game as he lined a single to the gap in right-center.
Oswego State got on the board in the fourth on an unearned run. With one on and one out, an error breathed life into the Lakers. Two walks would ultimately force in the run before Caballero averted greater damage by striking out Eric Hamilton.
This was an opportune time for the Cougars to answer an opponent's score, and they did it in a huge way. Kevin Garvey led off with a single and hustled to third on an infield grounder by shortstop Aaron Wicker. Brendan Klein singled to left for the first run of the inning. Doug Matthews followed with a single, and both runners moved up on another infield out. Spohr then provided the big hit of the inning with a line single to center, bringing Klein and Matthews both in to score. Spohr then stole second and scored when Wilson ripped his third run-scoring single of the game to complete the four-run inning and boost CUC's lead to 7-1.
Caballero had to work his way through a tough sixth inning. With one out, Zach Whelan hit a ball deep to left for a ground-rule double. Whelan then was on the move on a wild pitch. He rounded third, and the Cougars had an excellent chance to gun him down, but the throw from Kevin Coppin was muffed at the plate. The Lakers then loaded the bases on two walks and a single, but Caballero bore down and got the last two outs on a foul pop to third and a line drive to short.
Again, Concordia-Chicago responded immediately with a crooked number on the scoreboard. Klein singled to right, moved up on a balk and scored on Matthews' single to center. Moments later, Matthews scored when Spohr laced a double to the leftfield corner.
Alex Meyers took the mound for the seventh, ending Caballero's day. The Cougars' starter battled through six innings, allowing six hits and seven walks but still able to commandeer the big out when he needed it.
"We named Cody our starter at 10:00 last night," said CUC head coach Mike Stawski. "Oswego is a team that likes to go hard after first pitches, and Cody throws first-pitch changeups. We knew there would be some walks, but overall, he was able to keep them off balance."
The Lakers scratched for two runs in the seventh on an infield out and a wild pitch, but Meyers got the ground ball to second to end the inning. Petar Arbov then pitched the final two innings. Kevin Garcia, a defensive replacement at third base in the ninth, started a 5-4-3 double play and then caught the final out in foul territory to wrap up the Cougars' 34th win and first in World Series play.
"This was a huge win, definitely a team win," said Stawski in the post-game press conference. "We watched Oswego yesterday and knew that it was vital to get out to an early lead. It was also to keep adding on after they would score, because we know that no lead is safe against them. But we did the things we do well – score lots of runs, especially with two out, pitch well and play good defense." On the subject of the latter, Stawski cited the play of the freshman Wicker coming in at shortstop today and having a hand in seven putouts.
The Cougars will face Roanoke Sunday at 10 a.m. If CUC wins, they will play the Washington & Jefferson at 4:30 p.m. for a chance to set up a play-in game on Monday.