By Jim Dixon
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -- In a game for the ages, St. Thomas walked off in the 12th inning with a 3-2 win over Wooster to win the 2009 NCAA D-III baseball championship. St. Thomas became the first team since 2003 to force a second championship game with a 6-4 win earlier in the day.
"We consider ourselves very fortunate and lucky as [Wooster] was very good also," said St. Thomas coach Dennis Denning. "You want to play in big games. We finished at the end of the year playing in the biggest game of the year and won two."
In a tournament that seemed to be missing a memorable head-to-head pitching performance, the championship game did not disappoint. Mark Miller pitched a complete game for the Scots, giving up 12 hits over 11-plus innings and look the loss. "For three years [Miller] has done a phenomenal job and had a great effort," said head coach Tim Pettorini. "Unfortunately we could not score a few more runs for him."
Bryce Gapinski started the game for the Tommies, allowing the Wooster runs on five hits. Brandon Stone took over in the sixth inning and shut down a powerful Wooster offense, giving up three hits over seven innings. "We talked about starting [Stone] but did not think he could go six," said Denning. "We went with the lefty to test their left-handers. He gave us five innings and did great. Then we went with Brandon to go as far as he could until he got into trouble." About Stone, Pettorini said, "We thought we would get to him. He was just better than us today."
St. Thomas stuck first in the game as Louie Salmen, on board via the free pass, scored on Tim Kahle's RBI single. Wooster came right back to grab their first lead of the day. Stu Beath singled to right field and jogged home on Matt Groezinger dinger.
The Tommies went back to the fundamentals to engineer a tie game in the sixth. The tournament's most outstanding player, Matt Olson, singled and moved to second when Brian Schmitz worked a walk. A sacrifice bunt moved the batters up and a Roy Larson sacrifice fly brought in the second run for St. Thomas.
"[To win] We had to get pretty good pitching," said Denning. "We have a good defense and play small ball. We needed to score a little at a time."
The score remained the same though regulation but there were moments of drama. With two outs, Louie Salmen singled to left field and Ben Wartman's double down the left field line put runners on the corners. The Scots then walked Matt McQuillan intentionally to load the bases. John Means was called upon to pinch hit and when his ball went past the first baseman it looked like the game was over. Wooster second baseman John Warren got to the ball and nipped the runner at first in a spectacular play. "That was just a phenomenal play that he made and with Mark covering the base. We thought we could draw some momentum but their pitcher would not let us. we just did not have an answer."
The issue was settled in the 12th inning. Olson singled to left and was sacrificed into scoring position bringing up Dan Leslie. Leslie had hit into two double plays in both his last at-bats but redeemed himself when his ball skipped through the left side of the infield untouched, bringing the second longest championship game to an end. "I wanted to be up again," said Leslie. "I knew I would come up in the bottom [of the inning] and looked for a pitch and this time hit it away from an infielder."
In the first game of the day, St. Thomas with two runs in the ninth inning defeated Wooster 6-4. Matt Schuld held Wooster to nine hits, their fewest of the tournament, to get his second win in the championship round.
St. Thomas broke through in the fourth inning. Dan Leslie singled and moved to second on Larson's infield hit to third. Following a sacrifice to move the batters up one base Denning called for the suicide squeeze. Salmen executed the play for the Tommies' first run of the game. Brady Field followed with an RBI single to give the Tommies a 2-0 lead. Wooster would get on board in the next inning when Michael DeBord scored on Shane Swearingen's double to center field.
St. Thomas continued to put put runners on base and it was not until the seventh that St. Thomas was able to add to their lead. Matt Olson was hit by a pitch with two outs and moved to third on a Brian Schmitz single. Leslie singled to bring in Olsen and Larson's base hit to left scored Schmitz. Leslie strayed off second base at the end of the play for the final putout of the inning.
Wooster made up their deficit in the eighth. Swearingen's home run down the left field line started the scoring for the Scots. John Warren singled and was moved to second on Karpen's walk. Two batters later, Stu Beath's double to right center knotted the score 4-4.
McQuillan started the Toms' ninth inning rally. On by an error on the third baseman, he moved to second on a sacrifice. Olson was hit by a pitch setting the plate for Schmitz. Schmitz singled to right to reclaim the lead and the second squeeze play of the day gave the Toms their final run.
2009 All-Tournament Team
OF Stu Beath, Wooster
OF Sean Karpen, Wooster
1B John Lequia, Carthage
3B Dan Leslie, St. Thomas
OF Matt McQuillan, St. Thomas
P Mark Miller, Wooster
P Matt Schuld, St. Thomas
P Brandon Stone, St. Thomas
P/1B Greg Van Sickler, Shenandoah
3B Zack Vesco, Wooster
OF Matt Olson, St. Thomas - Most Outstanding Player