Cortland celebrates finally winning one

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Former Cortland State coach Bob Wallace passed away in December. The team wore his initials on the back of their hats this year and his memory was never far. photo by Larry Radloff

By Austin Walther

Cortland has reached the NCAA Tournament every year since 1993, and had played in the Division III World Series 12 times previously, always managing to find a way to drop two games and get knocked out short of the championship.

Joe Brown is in his 16th year as the Red Dragons’ head coach, and he’s seen all of those previous 12 trips, some of them as an assistant coach. This year, in order to even get to the series, Cortland had to overcome three games in which they were trailing after six innings in regional play and win the national championship with five runs in the ninth.

“I give a tremendous amount of credit to these young men,” Brown said. “The level of mental toughness that was displayed was like none other.”

The nine seniors on the team had been in Appleton twice before, but this year felt different to them. They were hungry for a victory and wanted to bring a baseball national championship to the program and the state of New York.

“We’re a squad through everybody,” senior outfielder Adam Smith said. “We have each other’s back and pick each other up.”

At the beginning of the year, the attitude was clear on what was to be expected. The upperclassmen told the underclassmen on how badly they wanted a national championship. Justin Teague, a freshman catcher, said the other day the team wasn’t done playing.

“It’s been a crazy experience,” Teague said. “It’s great to see our hard work paying off and we’re not done yet.” 

Cortland State has held onto its top spot in the rankings since April 12. Pitcher Brandon Serio said coach told them to continue to stay focused on winning games.

“We didn’t want to think about that at all this year,” Serio said. “As soon as you let that pressure get to you, you’ll lose.”

“It wasn’t about being No. 1,” Brown said. “It’s about playing the game.”

The road to Cortland’s first national championship wasn’t an easy one. They had to endure multiple rain delays throughout the weekend including a whole day washed out on Sunday. Smith said that wasn’t anything new to the team.

Joe Brown has been with this program for every Division III World Series appearance, and the veteran coach finally has a ring.
Photo by Larry Radloff, 

“That’s how our whole season has been,” Smith said. “It was fun and I wouldn’t expect it any other way.”

Since they have arrived in Appleton, Brown has continued to remind the players why they are here.

“We’re here to play baseball,” Brown said. “We stayed at the park because our guys were anxious to play.”

The team wasn’t going to fall apart. They knew what they had to accomplish and what it would take to do it.

“As a team we believe in each other,” Smith said. “We fought for everything and stuck together as a team.”

Brown knew that the 2015 Red Dragons were special. He said there were a few things that stood out to him about this team as opposed to any other Cortland team.

“We got five quality starts out there,” Brown said. “That put us in the best position to be there in the end.”

He added: “Our defense was superb. We had zero errors which was outstanding under pressure.”

In the final game, Cortland was going to bat in the top of the ninth. The ballpark played Centerfield by John Fogerty. During Cortland baseball alumni reunions they play the song.

Long road to Walnut and Bronze

Cortland's previous 12 trips to the Division III World Series all ended with the number 2 in the loss column.

1995: 0-2, tied for seventh at Salem, Va.
1997: 3-2, third place finish at Salem, Va.
1998: 3-2, third place finish at Salem, Va.
1999: 1-2, tied for fifth at Salem, Va.
2000: 1-2, tied for fifth at Appleton, Wis.
2001: 1-2, tied for fifth at Appleton, Wis.
2005: 4-2, second place finish at Appleton, Wis.
2007: 2-2, fourth place finish at Appleton, Wis.
2008: 0-2, tied for seventh place finish at Appleton, Wis.
2010: 4-2, second place finish at Appleton, Wis.
2012: 2-2, fourth place finish at Appleton, Wis.
2014: 1-2, tied for fifth at Appleton, Wis.
2015: 5-0, national champs
Overall record: 13 years,  27-24

“I was sitting there at third smiling,” Brown said. “I don’t know how coincidental that was, but it played before our rally.”

The song reminded Brown of former coach Bob Wallace. He was a former coach of the Red Dragons and loved Cortland baseball more than anything. He passed away in the past year. The team inscribed his initials in their hats and Brown felt his presence all series.

“We had a wonderful memorial service for him,” Brown said. “Our field is named after him and he was a very tough man.”

Smith added that the championship is for everyone that has ever played for Cortland.

“It’s such a storied program,” Smith said. “This is for everyone that has ever played here, especially for coach Wallace. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Brown said this is a program win. He had more than 100 text messages in ten minutes from alumni, parents and friends congratulating him on the victory.

“This is for all those that came before,” Brown said. “Those that battled and competed and had great teams.”

And the senior class was very special to Brown as well. “I love them,” Brown said. “What better graduation gift than to send them out as national champions.”

Smith said that Cortland baseball has been his life. “It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

Moving forward, these seniors will now become alumni. Brown is excited to know that after bringing a national championship to the program.

“It further cements their place in our program,” Brown said. “For us to come out and do it in this fashion is very special.”

And that will make the bus ride home feel a lot shorter.