Concordia Chicago Sidelined by Webster at NCAA Baseball Super Regional

Bryce VanDuser, Concordia Chicago
Bryce VanDuser, Concordia Chicago

Release courtesy of Concordia Chicago athletics communications

RIVER FOREST, Ill. --- The Concordia University Chicago baseball team saw its quest for a third-straight trip to the final site of the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship derailed with a pair of losses to Webster University in a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional at Cougar Park. The Cougars fell to the Gorloks, 4-3, in Friday's opener. Webster then completed the sweep with a 17-6 win Saturday.

Game 1 --- Webster 4, Concordia Chicago 3
Prior to this NCAA III Baseball Super Regional, one of eight across the country this weekend, many observers predicted that the series between Webster University and host Concordia University Chicago would be decided with pitching and defense. At least for day one, those predictions rang true, as Webster pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh and held on for a 4-3 victory at Cougar Field in River Forest.

The pitching matchup today pitted CUC's Adam Gregory against WU's Sean Beaver, both of who were familiar with the opposing lineups as the teams met three times during the regular season. Beaver breezed through the top of the first inning, but the Gorloks used a couple of long at-bats and made Gregory work in the bottom of the first. They did not score there, but they got the jump on the Cougars in the second. A.J. Smith led off with a perfect bunt toward third base for a hit. Singles by Kyler Kent and Kellen Quigley loaded the bases. and Joe Swanson then made it four straight hits, punching one into left field for a 1-0 lead. Matt Staker then lifted a fly ball to center field. The throw home was not in time to nail the runner, and the other runners moved up on the play. That would prove important because Quigley then scored on a second sacrifice fly by Danny Strohm for a 3-0 Gorloks' lead.

Beaver would keep CUC at bay through five innings, limiting the Cougars to three singles. However, in the top of the sixth, Matt Fauth led off with his second hit of the day. The Cougars then resorted to consecutive bunt singles by Jose Mercado and Keegan Tyrell, and when the throw to first on Tyrell's bunt was wild, Fauth came across with the first run for the Cougars. Bryan Van Duser followed with a single to center, scoring Mercado and sending Tyrell to third. Brody Mariotti was next up, and he hit a very high fly to deep center that appeared as if it was headed to Division Street for a CUC lead, but a swirling wind kept the ball in the yard; Mariotti would settle for a sacrifice fly, as Tyrell scored to knot the game at 3-3.

The deciding run came when Staker hit the first pitch in the seventh down the line for a double. Strohm moved him over to third with a bunt and got the bonus when he beat the throw to first. Back at the top of the order, Aron Hopp hit a grounder to shortstop. The force was made at second, but the relay was not in time to get the speedy Hopp as Staker crossed the plate.

With two outs in the eighth, CUC looked to get even as Mariotti found the gap in right-center for a double. Connor Brandon, who came into the game fourth in Division III with 64 RBIs, was given an intentional pass to first base, and Webster went to the bullpen for Adrian Santiago. The Gorloks' closer got down to business, striking out Mateo Calle to end the threat. Santiago then retired the Cougars 1-2-3 in the ninth on two grounders to third with a strikeout in-between to put game one into the Gorloks' ledger.

Game 2 --- Webster 17, Concordia Chicago 6
In the end, a season in which the Concordia-Chicago baseball program won a record 24 consecutive games and set a new season record with 42 wins was not enough to achieve the ultimate goal. 

The game began with warm 76-degree temperatures and a wind blowing out to center, and flashbacks of last weekend's 14-13 game between CUC and Baldwin-Wallace came to mind in the first couple of innings, starting when the third batter of the game, Webster's Ben Swords, drilled a two-out homer (his seventh) to center. CUC answered on a lead-off double to the wall by Jose Mercado. He moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Keegan Tyrell's sacrifice fly. One out later, Brody Mariotti got hold of a pitch and hit it deep for his 13th homer, almost to the identical spot as Swords' homer, and the Cougars led 2-1 after one inning.

The lead lasted only minutes, as Kyler Kent led off the Gorloks' second with a no-doubt rocket to right for his seventh homer. Webster then took the lead in the third with four straight singles after the first two batters were retired. However, CUC quickly erased that two-run deficit, as Mercado led off with his second double in as many at-bats. Tyrell was hit by a pitch, and Bryan VanDuser singled to right, scoring Mercado and sending Tyrell to third. Mariotti then went deep center again, but not as far this time. His fly was caught just in front of the warning track, but Tyrell scored easily to tie the game at 4-4.

Webster would take the lead for good in the fifth on Aron Hopp's two-out single. The Gorloks then began to open it up, as they scored three times in the fifth. Concordia-Chicago looked to rally in the bottom of the inning, and they got one run back in singles by VanDuser, Mariotti and Connor Brandon. However, WU pitcher Brendan May struck out the next two batters to keep his team in an 8-5 lead. The Gorloks then pulled away with two runs in the sixth, six runs in the seventh and oone in the eighth for a 17-5 lead. The Cougars tallied the final run of the game in the bottom of the eighth as Abelardo Paz Agudelo scored on a wild pitch.

The Gorloks (37-11) amassed 22 hits, with all nine starters getting at least one hit. Kent went 4-6 with four runs scored and four driven in, while Swords went 3-5 with five runs scored. May earned the win with 6 1/3 innings of relief after Mariotti's homer had chased WU starter Dakota Borman. The Cougars rapped out 11 hits, with Mercado. VanDuser, Mariotti and Justin Rodriguez collecting two each. Zach Litke took the loss, the first of six CUC relievers following starter Alex Crinigan.

For CUC, the loss brought an end to not only a great season, but also an excellent run for the class of departing seniors, the first class of fourth-year head coach Mike Stawski. That group - Brandon, Rodriguez, Tyrell, VanDuser and Jacob Frank - contributed to a collective record of 150-51, four straight regular-season conference titles and ht program's first two World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018.

Webster advances to the finals of the 2019 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship, which will be held May 31-June 4/5 at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.