Pioneers heading back to the Series
MARIETTA, Ohio - One thing is pretty clear for Marietta College's baseball team: Winning the Mideast Regional is never trite.
The Etta Express (43-7) pulled out a magical run through the 2012 NCAA Division III Mideast Regional by winning five straight, including a 7-3 victory over Manchester in the championship game Sunday.
"It doesn't get old. Obviously it's why you play the game. … but it's just a really special experience," said Brian Brewer, who picked up his 400th career win Sunday. "I learned a few years ago that we're going to appreciate every one of these."
Marietta's regional championship is a Division III-best 22nd, and the Pioneers advance to the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship for a second consecutive year.
A big reason why Marietta will play in Appleton, Wis., starting Friday is because of the pitching performance by senior Brian Gasser.
"I can't wait to share this with the senior class. Obviously our goal is to repeat as national champions," he said. "I really don't think we'll be satisfied with anything less. So we're going to work hard and get ready for the World Series."
Gasser, who pitched on two days rest, improved to 10-3 on the season by scattering six hits and allowing two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings of work.
"It's not my preferred way of doing things, but being a senior and my last chance to pitch at Don Schaly (Stadium) I was definitely looking forward to it," he said. "I had a lot of treatments to get ready for it. I don't think all of my velocity was there and I can attribute that to the short rest, but all of my pitches felt good."
As impressive as Gasser's outing was, the guy who relieved him was just as effective. Senior Kyle Lindquist picked up his seven save by throwing 3 1/3 innings. He allowed three hits and one earned run. However, he did all of this on one day of rest.
"Coach Brewer and I discussed the potential of throwing some yesterday, so today it was 100 percent and I think everyone on our team was ready to go," said Lindquist, who threw eight innings in a win over Adrian on Friday. "The ability to fight through and win five games in three days … I don't think there is any task we can't accomplish right now baseball wise."
Brewer said he was "proud" of what the two seniors did to help the team win the regional.
"It goes into their preparation. Everybody thinks about today but it's the work in the weight room, it's the work on their off days. It started a long, long time ago," Brewer said. "Incredibly impressive performance and I don't think there was a kid in the dugout who wouldn't have jumped at the chance to get out there on that mound."
Gasser did talk about how he and his teammates had been joking about the pitching staff's lack of success in the first inning of the regional
In seven games, Marietta's ERA in the first inning was 10.29, but in the remaining eight innings it was a solid 2.09.
"It was just amazing how many runs we gave up in the first inning. So I kind of wanted to break that trend," said Gasser, who didn't allow a run until the second inning.
Marietta took the lead in the fourth inning after opening the inning with back-to-back hits from junior Evan Brockmeier and senior Niko Stanislav. After one out, Brockmeier and Stanislav stole third and second, respectively.
Junior Bryan Gregorich drove in Brockmeier after grounding out to third and Stanislav scored the go ahead run on senior Kirby Becker's single.
Marietta added another run in the fifth and eighth, but the score remained close because of the strong pitching by Manchester's Justin Scott.
"If you really need a win I'm going to Justin," said Manchester coach Rick Espeset. "I think he looked strong. … We weren't even on a pitch count. It was one or done. We don't get chances to be here very much and if we lost the game with Justin throwing I'm OK with it."
After pitching out of jams all day, Scott couldn't do it in the ninth as Marietta tacked on three insurance runs. Junior catcher Alex Toth came through with a big 0-2 single to right that scored sophomore Matt Moormeier and junior Aaron Hopper.
While Marietta's pitching staff deserves praise for pitching on short rest, Toth caught 62 of Marietta 63 innings in the regional.
"It was tough, but it came down to taking care of myself and icing down," he said. "I took advantage and rested during our down time."
Brockmeier also had two RBI on Sunday, while Hopper went 4-for-4 and made a "web game" while diving for a ball in center field in the seventh inning.
"When you see the ball hit hard you have to put your head down and run," Hopper said. "I looked back up and saw it floating in the air and I said, 'I might have a chance to get this.' So I laid out and hoped for the best and came up with it."
Hopper said he wouldn't want to do it again, but fighting through the loser's bracket was a big accomplishment for the Pioneers.
"We had to get a lot of rest and we knew that," said Hopper, who .357 in the regional and made the All-Tournament Team. "Playing a lot of games in such a short amount of time is tough, but we have tough team and we stuck it out, played hard and played together."
Also making the All-Tournament squad from Marietta was sophomore designated hitter Josh Ungerbuehler, senior shortstop Tim Saunders, Toth, Becker and Lindquist. Senior pitcher Austin Blaski was named the Most Outstanding Player.
Other representatives were St. John Fisher first baseman Steven Karnyski and outfielder Sean Osterman, and Manchester third baseman Jordan Nieman and outfielder Cody Schell.
For Marietta's senior class, this was their fourth regional final. Manchester ends the season 28-21.
"We were proud of them win or lose because of the way they played in the regional," Espeset said.
Marietta faces Whitworth (30-14-1) in the final game of first day in the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships at 8:45 p.m. (EST) at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis.