Titans stand tall on final day

More news about: Cortland | Illinois Wesleyan
Jeff Grodecki got five hits and scored four runs in five trips to the plate in the national title game.
SUNY-Cortland photo by Larry Radloff

By Jim Dixon

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -- Illinois Wesleyan head coach Dennis Martel was looking just to bring home a trophy. The pitching of Jason Pankau and Jeff Grodecki's bat was enough to give Illinois Wesleyan a 17-5 win over Cortland State ... and the biggest trophy of the tournament.

Grodecki was 5-for-5 and two home runs to spark the Titan offense and Pankau scattered six hits with nine strikeouts to cool down a hot offense.

Cortland picked up in the first where it left off in the previous game. Andersen Gardner reached on an error by the right fielder and did not have to wait long as Steve Nickel blasted his second home run of the tournament.

The Titans needed only two innings to take the lead. In the second, Grodecki's two out bomb brought the Titans to within one. Mark McDemott singled to start the third and Kraig Ladd's pop up tipped off the shortstop's glove for an error. A walk to Brett Moore loaded the bases and Mike Morrissey's ground out tied the game. Center fielder Khyle Dimino dove for Kevin Sullivan's drive to right center and could not come up with the ball, allowing two runs to score on the triple.

Illinois Wesleyan added four runs to its lead in the fourth. Grodecki led off the inning with another solo home run. The Titans used run-scoring singles by Kraig Ladd and Morrissey as well as a wild pitch for a six run lead.

Cortland continue to be pounded by the Titans giving up nine runs in the fifth frame. Grodecki started the inning with a single and eight hits, two walks and three Cortland pitchers later the Titans had a 17-2 lead.

"We got great hacks and it just snowballed," said Titans catcher Mark McDermott.

Meanwhile the Red Dragons were being tamed by Jason Pankau. After allowing two unearned runs in the first, Pankau faced three batters over the minimum in the next five innings, including striking out six consecutive batters from the second to fourth innings.

"Early on I learned that [Cortland] was more of an offspeed hitting team," said Pankau. "I tried to get ahead with the fastball and stuck with that for the rest of the game."

Cortland finally reached Pankau for the their third run of the game in the seventh. John Zilnicki singled and scored on Kevin Jackson's triple. The Red Dragons would add two more runs in the ninth.

Game notes: Cortland set an eight-team series record for runs allowed with 77, eclipsing a mark they set in 1995. The 77 runs are the most ever, surpassing the 74 runs allowed by Otterbein in 1983.

This is the second time a team with 20 or more losses has made it to the Championship game. Illinois Wesleyan entered the tournament with a 27-20 record. Cal State-Stanislaus won the 1976 championship with a 33-20-2 record.