Seguin, Texas - The third-ranked Trinity baseball team secured its fourth consecutive Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championship with an 8-3 victory over Southwestern University on Sunday afternoon.
The top-seeded Tigers (35-7) also earned the automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Playoffs. Trinity awarded Head Coach Tim Scannell a 10th conference championship during his 18-year tenure at the helm. Fourth-seeded Southwestern upset the top seed and host Texas Lutheran University 16-2 in an earlier run-rule elimination game. The Pirates completed the season with a an 18-25 record.
"It’s a thrill for this team to have another chance to go to a Regional and compete," said Head Coach Tim Scannell. "Winning is never easy. This senior group has done so much winning, that I feel it was an expectation level that they carried, almost to a burden this year. We are just fired up that they came through, and we couldn’t be more happy for this team."
Ryan Gray (7-3) pitched brilliantly for 6.2 innings for the Tigers, striking out 11 Pirates along the way. He walked a player in the fifth inning, and permitted two more walks in the seventh. The only hit during Gray’s time on the mound turned out to be a three-run homer in the seventh inning. Gray walked another player before he was relieved by Andrew Hoffman. Over the final 2.1 innings, Hoffman continued the excellent performance of the Tiger pitching staff by yielding only one hit, while picking up his second save of the campaign.
"Ryan Gray is a great story," continued Coach Scannell. "He had a really difficult year. He had all the weight of the world on his shoulders, being our number one. Sometimes, this game is tough. He had a tough way finding his release point, being consistent. But, he is a high-character kid and never stopped fighting for it. Today, he was lights out. When his teammates needed him the most, he stepped up. Then we went to Andrew Hoffman, and he has been our rock all year long, he and Chris Tate. It’s good to have a bullpen that you can turn the game over to."
Trinity opened the scoring with a run in the bottom of the first inning, followed by three more runs on the scoreboard in the third - highlighted by Nick Jewett's two-run homer. The round-tripper was the second by Jewett in as many days, and his fifth of the season.
The 4-0 lead looked to be more than enough for Gray, but after he gave up the hit in the seventh that made it 4-3, the Pirates were very much back in the game. The Tiger offense had a huge response in the bottom of the seventh, though, plating four runs to pull back out in front, 8-3. The big blow in the inning came from the bat of George Haaland. Haaland stroked a two-out double with the bases loaded to bring in three of the four runs in the inning.
Jewett went 2-2 at the plate, with three RBI, and two runs scored. Butler cracked two RBI, while Haaland, Andrew Waters, and Colin Serkowski each posted a pair of hits. Connor Moore and Jeremy Wolf each crossed the plate twice during the championship tilt.
"Nick Jewett is kind of our leader, and he is a tough-minded kid," concluded Coach Scannell. "He’s never afraid of the big moment. That’s really what playoff baseball comes down to - who’s not afraid. Jewett has never been afraid, all of his years in our program. So, he was huge today."
Seven Trinity players were selected for the All-Tournament Team: Butler (catcher), Jewett (first base), Serkowski (second base), Moore (shortstop), Waters (outfield), Michael Walker (starting pitcher), and Kevin Flores (relief pitcher).
The NCAA will issue bids to the Playoffs on May 15. The Tigers will head to a Regional Tournament, to be held May 18-21/22, at a predetermined site. Regional champions advance to the NCAA Championship May 27-31 at Appleton, Wisconsin.
Last season, Trinity stormed ahead after winning the SCAC Tournament and the Regional, as the Tigers advanced for the first time to the DIII World Series. Trinity came within one game of competing in the best-of-three championship series.