The title clinching game of the 1990 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship turned out to be a formality for Eastern Connecticut. The Warriors made the first three rounds of the four-day tournament look almost too easy, winning each game by no fewer than three runs. The game that wrapped up the double-elimination for the Warriors was no different. Eastern Connecticut rode the strength of Chris Kebalka's arm and the bat of tournament MVP Brian Mercado to an 8-1 victory over Aurora at C.O. Brown Stadium in Battle Creek, Mich., on Monday.
"It's going to take a while to sink in," Mercado said. "But I'm
going to be walking on cloud nine all summer." Mercado hit his
championship record fourth home run, a two-run shot in the third
inning, to give Kebalka all the runs he would need. Kebalka pitched
a complete game, allowing four hits and one run while striking out
six and walking four.
Eastern Connecticut was the favorite heading into this weekend and that bothered coach Bill Holowaty. "I thought we could do it this year," Holowaty said. "But (being the favorite) makes it a tough situation. I've been here before, and you can't assume. I just had to make the right decisions and let the horses run."
One of the right decisions was starting Kebalka, who has been hampered all year by a sore shoulder and elbow. "I took some pain killers in the shoulder," Kubalka said. But when you get the chance, you've got to do it." Kebalka had little trouble, allowing one hit in the first four innings. "He (Mercado) said 'just pitch and I'll get you a homer,' " Kebalka said. "I figured if I could get one run, I would be happy."
As the game went on, the Aurora players grew weary. Each of the past two nights, the Spartans played into the early morning hours. "It wears on you." Aurora all-tournament outfielder Bob Guarardo said. "When you have to come back the way we did, it drains on you." Aurora rallied to beat N.C. Wesleyan 8-7 in a game that did not finish until after 2 a.m. Sunday morning. The Spartans then held off N.C. Wesleyan 12-9 in a game that ended at 1:30 a.m. to reach the championship round.
Eastern Connecticut also drained the Aurora pitching staff Monday. The Warriors chased loser Scott LeVault after 2.2 innings. With Aurora's Russ Voelz pitching in the fifth, Eastern added a run on Jeff Handler's sacrifice fly. In the sixth, Eastern scored three times off Bob Stacey and Jason Whitmyer to take a 6-0 lead and put the game out of reach.
Aurora managed a run in the seventh off Dave Cave's pinch hit single to make the score 7-1. Eastern finished the scoring with a solo home run by Denis Kelly in the ninth.
Despite being the tournament MVP, Mercado was quick to spread the credit around. "I'm playing with the best," he said. "We are stacked. This is as good as it gets." Mercado added that it may even get better for Eastern. Only a sophomore, he plans even better things for next year. "I think I can get better. I know I can improve."
1990 All Tournament Team
MVP - Brian Mercado, Eastern Connecticut
Catcher - Dean Haase, UW-Oshkosh
First Base - Doug Flowers, N.C. Wesleyan
Second Base - Ryan Love, Cal State San Bernardino
Third Base - Pete Daniels, Eastern Connecticut
Shortstop - Jeff Handler, Eastern Connecticut
Outfield - Eric Jarman, N.C. Wesleyan; Bob Guajardo, Aurora; Basilio Ortiz, Eastern Connecticut
Designated Hitter - Brian Mercado, Eastern Connecticut
Pitcher - Rusty Greene, Eastern Connecticut; John Bachio, Aurora.