Cougars Eliminated With Late-Inning Loss

Cody Caballero
Cody Caballero

Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago

APPLETON, Wis. -- Future generations of Concordia University Chicago baseball fans will look back on the 2018 team, a repeat participant in the Division III World Series and its first 40-win team, and regard it as one of the greatest in CUC history. But for now, all the accolades do not lessen the disappointment of its season ending just three wins short of a World Series championship. Texas Lutheran University turned the tables on the Cougars, similar to what CUC had done with the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh at the Midwest Regional, coming back to win two games. Today's game saw TLU come back from another 3-0 deficit and win 5-4 on an eighth-inning homer to advance to the final round of the World Series against the University of Texas-Tyler.

"Hats off to Texas Lutheran, that's a great ball club," said CUC head coach Mike Stawski. "A lot of times these three times we've played them, we would get the first two outs of an inning, but they would keep coming, putting pressure on us. Today, they just beat us. We didn't lose the game, they just bet us."

The Cougars batted as the visitors today, and they faced the same starter as Saturday night in Dylan Drgac. The Cougars drove Drgac from the game after 2 1/3 innings on Saturday, and they picked up where they left off in the first inning today. Bryan VanDuser singled with one out. Joe Silva was hit by the first pitch he saw, and Andrew Massey walked to load the bases. Mitch Wilson then hit the ball to the left side, ticketed for the outfield. Shortstop Eric Rabinowitz dove and made a nice stop, but his throw to second was just a little wide as Massey was sliding into the bag. Massey was safe, and as the ball rolled away, Silva was able to score behind VanDuser and make it 2-0 Cougars.

Fifteen hours after last being on the pitchers' mound, Mike Formella was back there, in a similar situation as his May 20 start against the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. Formella made it unscathed through an adventurous bottom of the first. A pair of singles put runners on the corners with one out. A fly to short right field kept the runners at their bases for out number two. Keaton Boysen then hit a sizzler directly at first baseman Massey. Massey deflected the ball at a 90-degree angle, where an alert Wilson came in and flipped it to Massey, who had the presence of mind to remain by the first base bag. Wilson's flip was just in time to get Boysen and retire the side.

The score remained at 2-0 until the top of the fourth. Kevin Coppin singled and was at first with two out when Keegan Tyrell's single through the left side kept the inning alive. That brought Mercado to the plate, who had grounded out his first two trips. This time, Mercado grounded one past the pitcher and back up the middle for a base hit, scoring Coppin for a three-run lead.
Formella kept the TLU bats quiet for the first 4 1/3 innings, but the Bulldogs suddenly rose up with four straight hits in the fifth. A double by Rabinowitz put the Bulldogs on the board, and Riley Schaefer's single up the middle scored a pair and made it a new ball game.

The sixth inning looked to be continuing the momentum for Texas Lutheran. Concordia-Chicago threatened with Brandon on second base with one out. Mercado's deep fly to left was caught, and Brandon tagged up and went to third. The relay throw got away momentarily, and Brandon was waved toward home. However, Brandon slipped rounding the base, and the Bulldogs recovered in time to throw back to third and tag him out. Texas Lutheran then took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the inning as Boysen doubled with one out and scored on Matt Lemon's single down the right-field line.

VanDuser led off the seventh and began to bring some of the momentum back to CUC as he hit a pop fly to short right field and hustle it into a double. Silva then beat out a bunt to the right side of the mound, and the Cougars were set up for business. Massey's fly to medium-deep right field easily scored VanDuser, but the TLU reliever was able to wiggle out of any further damage.

Cody Caballero came on to pitch the seventh, and kept the Cougars deadlocked with the Bulldogs, helping himself by catching Schaefer off of first base. The Cougars then looked to take the lead in the eighth with a lead-off walk and a hit in the inning, but a double play derailed CUC's plans, and the game was still 4-4 headed into the bottom of the eighth.

Cleanup batter Tyler Cauley led off for TLU. Caballero battled Cauley to a 3-2 count before Cauley then got all of the next pitch, golfing it way over the left field wall for his 12th homer of the year and a 5-4 lead. The Bulldogs put their next man on base, but Caballero and Abelardo Paz Agudelo were able to escape any further damage and keep it a one-run game heading into the ninth.

Silva led off against TLU closer Dylan Murrell by muscling a single up the middle to give CUC life. However, Murrell made quick work of the next two batters, getting Massey to fly to right field for the first out and then getting Wilson to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end a record-breaking 40-15 season.

In the post-game press conference, Stawski reflected mostly on the seniors that played their final game today. "We'll definitely miss their athletic abilities, their baseball abilities...although I think I'll probably remember a lot of the off-the-field stuff." Stawski later added that "they will leave an imprint on everyone they've touched. They leave such an impact on me...if I'm coaching 30 years from now, I'll bring something of what they've given me to players that aren't even born yet. Their impact will be immeasurable."