|Marietta swept through four games at the NCAA championships to bring home the 2006 title.|
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – Entering Tuesday’s NCAA Division III national championship game at Fox Cities Stadium, it had been 20 years since the Marietta baseball team had taken top honors back to Ohio.
Since then, the United States has been under the leadership of four presidents. The Cold War ended, while music and fashion trends have come and gone. And nine years ago in Norton, Mass., Marietta’s 2006 championship-game opponent, Wheaton College, established its varsity baseball team. By that time, Marietta had already played in 14 of its 18 championship finals and had won three national titles. And Marietta proved on Tuesday that experience counts in a championship game.
Marietta outscored its opponents 26-12 in winning its four tournament games, marking the second straight year that the national championship team has gone unbeaten through the five-day tournament.
Mike Eisenberg delivered his second dominating outing on the mound to share tournament Co-Most Outstanding Player honors with his teammate, Justin Steranka. Eisenberg struck out 12 Lyons on the afternoon while allowing just two walks and six hits in eight innings, giving him 23 strikeouts in his 16 innings of work in two starts in the finals. “Nobody’s more important than anybody else in our program, but he’s our No. 1 pitcher,” Brewer said. “He’s performed like it all year and he performed like it today. He’s just a super kid and a great competitor.”
“He pitched a really good game,” said Wheaton’s Pat O’Connor, who had a run-scoring single off of Eisenberg. “The slider was very effective today. It made us off-balance. A lot of us chased pitches in the dirt. The thing about his slider was that you couldn’t pick up the spin until it broke, and by then, you’re already swinging and you’re just lunging on it. He pitched a great game. He deserved to win today.”
Eisenberg delivered a solid mix of pitches – fastball, curveball and slider – and went through the first three innings without giving up a hit. In the fourth, Wheaton loaded the bases on a walk, fielding error and single, but a double-play grounder ended the threat. “I was just trying to get the ball where it needed to go, and our defense was huge today again,” Eisenberg said. “That double play with the bases loaded ... was probably the biggest play of the game, because that was a momentum-changer right there.”
Marietta began its scoring barrage right after the double play, as all seven of its runs came via the long ball. The first was a Tony Piconke two-run homer to left field in the bottom of the fourth. In the fifth, Steranka hit a three-run shot to left-center, then followed that up an inning later with a two-run blast to deep center field. “I went up there with the approach to hit the ball to the opposite field,” Piconke said of his homer. “He ( Wheaton pitcher Chris McDonough) ended up hanging a change-up up towards the middle of the plate, and I ended up putting a good swing on it and it went over.”
“Normally, when Mike’s (Eisenberg) on the mound --
this has been the case all year – we don’t need to put
up a lot of runs,” Steranka said. “When we can put up
seven, normally we feel pretty good as a team that we can win most
of the time. What better way to come out than in a national
championship game, to put up an offensive display like that?”
In addition to Steranka’s 3-for-5 performance, Klausman,
Piconke and Eschbaugh had two hits apiece.
Eisenberg allowed just one hit through his first six innings of work, but Wheaton got on the scoreboard in the seventh. Two walks and RBI singles by O’Connor and Brandon Leonard produced two runs in the frame.
After a scoreless eighth inning, a leadoff single in the ninth
by Wheaton’s Adam Laplante brought Brewer to the Marietta
mound to replace pitchers. Mike DeMark made his third appearance in
the finals, claiming a strikeout while allowing one hit in the
Leonard led the Lyons with two hits, while Andy Koocher had a double, his 12th of the season.
“We had a great season, a great run through our conference tournament, a great run through the regional tournament,” said Wheaton coach Eric Podbelski, the only head coach in the nine-year history of the Lyons’ program. “These guys will always be the first team that took us to this point ... and once we were here, we weren’t just happy to be here. We got to the championship game. As hard as it is to reflect right now, I know that this team will always be remembered at Wheaton, and I’ll always remember them. It’s amazing.”
McDonough, who earned a win with an eight-inning, five-strikeout performance against North Carolina Wesleyan on Friday, lasted just 4-1/3 innings for the Lyons on Tuesday, striking out one while allowing 10 hits.
2006 All Tournament Team
MVP: Mike Eisenberg, Marietta; Justin Steranka, Marietta
First Base - Jarrod Klausman, Marietta, Patrick Ohail, Chapman; Third Base - Justin Steranka, Marietta; Robert Clark, Montclair State; Shortstop - Ryan Eschbaugh, Marietta; Utility - Jordan Zimmermann, UW-Stevens Point; Pitcher - Mike Eisenberg, Marietta; Loiue Bernardini, Wheaton; Devin Drag, Chapman; Chris McDonough, Wheaton; Michael Vicaro, Montclair State.