RIVER FOREST, Ill. (naccsports.org) --- After falling to Baldwin Wallace University in the completion of a game suspended by inclement weather, Concordia University Chicago won a pair of elimination games Sunday to force a winner-take-all championship game Monday morning in the NCAA Division III Baseball River Forest Regional at Cougar Field.
The Cougars (41-8) were tripped up by Baldwin Wallace, 10-8, to open the day, then came back with an 11-5 win over Buena Vista University before outlasting the Yellow Jackets, 14-13, in 10 innings in a rematch of the winner's bracket final to set up Monday's deciding game for the regional title.
First pitch for Monday's championship game is slated for 11 a.m.
Baldwin Wallace 10, Concordia Chicago 8 (Box Score)
Concordia Chicago jumped out to a 4-0 lead after four innings. Connor Brandon hit a solo home run in the second and Bryan VanDuser added an RBI single in the third, then followed with a two-run double in the fourth.
Baldwin Wallace countered with three runs in the fifth on a two-run double by Philip Wells and an RBI single to center by Jacob Bonner that scored Wells.
Each side scored a pair of runs in the sixth as CUC picked up RBI singles from Matt Fauth and Keegan Tyrell, while BW countered with a two-run homer by Alex Ludwick to keep it a one-run game after six innings.
After stranding a runner at second in their half of the seventh, the Cougars allowed the first two batters to reach in the bottom half of the frame courtesy of a walk and a double down the left-field line before the rains came, suspending play for the day.
Once play resumed Sunday morning, the Yellow Jackets jumped on CUC reliever Anthony Rogers right away as Bonner rapped a two-run single to left-center to give BW a 7-6 lead. BW then tacked on two additional runs to extend the lead to 9-6.
Following a Fauth single to lead off the eighth inning, Jose Mercado drew the Cougars within a run by depositing a ball over the center-field fence for a two-run homer.
The Yellow Jackets countered with an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth, then worked around a one-out single in the ninth as the Cougars hit into a game-ending double play.
Alex Crinigan got the start for CUC, allowing three runs on eight hits while striking out three over five innings but did not figure into the decision as Zach Litke took the loss.
Brandon, Mateo Calle and Justin Rodriguez each had three hits to lead the Cougars, who blasted 17 hits in the contest. VanDuser had three RBI, while Fauth scored four times.
Garrett Miller threw two scoreless innings to get the win for Baldwin Wallace, while Jack Raines recorded his sixth save of the year.
Wells and Bonner each had three hits to lead the Yellow Jackets offensively, while Bonner (three), Ludwick (three) and Wells (two) all had multiple RBI.
Concordia Chicago 11, Buena Vista 5 (Box Score)
Concordia Chicago slugged its way to an 11-5 win over Buena Vista in Sunday's second game, pounding out 18 hits, including seven extra-base hits and three home runs to advance to the regional championship game.
After CUC's Bryan VanDuser and BVU's Bryce Rheault hit matching solo home runs in the first inning, the Cougars tacked on four in the top of the second as Brayden Benavides rapped an RBI double down the left-field line. Keegan Tyrell followed with a two-run single and Jose Mercado scored on a throwing error to make it 5-1.
Buena Vista rallied for three runs in the bottom half of the frame on an RBI single and a pair of RBI groundouts, but would get no closer.
Benavides and Connor Brandon blasted solo home runs in the third and sixth innings, respectively, and Tyrell added an RBI double in the fifth to extend the lead to 8-4. It grew to 10-4 in the seventh as Brody Mariotti smacked an RBI double to right and VanDuser scored on a Brandon sacrifice fly.
The Beavers would halt the Cougar run with a Peyton Renning solo home run in the seventh, but a Brandon RBI single in the ninth provided one last salvo for the Cougar offense.
VanDuser and Mariotti each had three hits to lead CUC, while Tyrell and Brandon each had two hits and three RBI. Benavides also finished with two hits and a pair of runs driven in.
Cole Carman picked up the win, scattering five runs on 11 hits and a pair of walks in six innings. Cade Laudenschlager and Anthony Rogers allowed just a hit and a walk while not allowing a run over the final three innings.
Rheault, BVU's single-season hits leader, led the Beavers with three hits.
Concordia Chicago 14, Baldwin Wallace 13, 10 innings (Box Score)
Jose Mercado had two home runs and a double and drove in five in the contest, but it was a pinch-hit RBI single off the bat of Justin Rodriguez that extended Concordia Chicago's season at least one more day.
After three CUC pitchers had conceded 13 runs through six innings, Nick Brummel was brought on to start the seventh and immediately proved to be a game-changer. He retired the Yellow Jackets in order in the seventh and eighth innings. Brummel walked Brandon Dim to lead off the ninth and, after a pop-out to short, gave up an Alex Ludwick single through the right side. He nearly got out of the jam himself, but the Cougars were unable to turn a double play on a ball to Mercado at short. Baldwin Wallace had runners on the corners as a result, putting the go-ahead run just 90 feet away. Mike Tobin was summoned from the bullpen and threw one pitch to Philip Wells, who grounded out weakly to Brody Mariotti at first.
The Cougars had an opportunity in the bottom of the ninth as Mercado rapped a two-out double into no-man's land down the right-field line, but was stranded there as Keegan Tyrell flew out to right to end the threat and move the game into extra innings.
Tobin retired the first two BW batters of the 10th on a total of three pitches, but Reese Albright was able to work the count full before being retired on a fly ball to deep center after an eight-pitch at-bat.
Bryan VanDuser drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the 10th, advancing to second when Connor Brandon beat out a one-out infield single to shortstop. VanDuser moved up to third when Mateo Calle flew out to right, setting the stage for Rodriguez's heroics. Rodriguez fouled off the first pitch he saw, then took the second for a ball before lacing a ball towards Ludwick at short. Ludwick made a valiant diving effort, but the ball ticked off the end of his glove for the walk-off hit.
Over the first five innings, every shot fired by Baldwin Wallace in the top half of an inning seemed to be answered in some form by a salvo from Concordia Chicago. Calle hit a solo home run in the second, followed by RBI singles from VanDuser and Brandon and a Calle sacrifice fly in the third. In the fourth, Mercado launched a three-run home run to left and Calle added an RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 8-8.
Wells hit a 3-run homer to right in the fifth for the Yellow Jackets, only to be answered by another blast - this one a two-run shot - from Mercado in the bottom half of the frame. BW extended the lead to 13-10 as runs came across on a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly.
VanDuser finished with a game-high four hits while driving in three and scoring twice to lead the Cougars, who had 19 hits overall. A total of seven CUC players finished with multiple hits.
Baldwin Wallace had 16 hits, led by Ludwick and Kyle Pennington with three. Ludwick also drove in three, scored three times, and drew a pair of walks. Wells matched Mercado with five RBI.