Webster win ends SLIAC title drought

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GREENVILLE, Ill. - For the first time since 2014, Webster University will be bringing home the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament Championship trophy to Webster Groves as the top-seeded and seventh-ranked Gorloks posted an 8-0 shutout win here Saturday evening over Greenville University in the winner take-all game of the 2018 SLIAC Tournament hosted at Robert E. Smith Field.

Webster, who entered Saturday's SLIAC Tournament Championship game as the only undefeated team in double elimination tournament, were forced to play a winner-take-all game on Saturday evening after the Panthers picked up a 9-4 win in the first game of Saturday's championship round. The loss snapped Webster's NCAA-leading 21 game win streak that stretched a little over a month. Prior to the setback to Greenville, Webster's previous loss was a 2-1 setback at Eureka on April 8.

The SLIAC Tournament Championship is the ninth all-time for the Gorloks in league history and its first since going 3-0 and sweeping through the 2014 Tournament at Gilk Park in Highland, Ill. In fact, the 2014 championship was the fifth consecutive for the Gorloks. Along with capturing its ninth SLIAC Tournament title, Webster also took home its 12th consecutive SLIAC regular season title this season as they went 20-2 during league play with only losses coming against Eureka and Westminster (Mo.) College in 12 innings. 

With the championship victory, Webster, who improves its record to 36-8 on the season, earns the automatic qualifier berth into the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament from the SLIAC and will now compete in the NCAA Division III Region Tournament, which they will host next week at GCS Credit Union Ballpark in Sauget, Illinois. The selections for the 2018 Division III Baseball Tournament will be announced online by the NCAA at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday evening. 

In the winner-take-all game, Webster used strong starting pitcher from freshman Sean Beaver (San Diego, Calif./Scripps Ranch) as the righthander tossed seven shutout innings and allowed five hits, while walking one and fanning four in his 91 pitch outing. 

Beaver's pitching was backed up by a strong offensive showing as after being limited to nine hits and four runs in the loss to Greenville earlier on Saturday, the Gorloks recorded 12 hits and scored all eight of their runs in the first four innings, including putting four runs on the board in the first inning. 

Beaver's performance earned himself a spot on the SLIAC All-Tournament Team as he was joined on the team by his teammates, sophomore first baseman Kyler Kent (Pottsboro, Texas), freshman shortstop Matt Staker (El Cajon, Calif./Saint Augustine) and senior designated hitter Ben Dinter (Gurnee, Ill./College of Lake County), who was named the Tournament's MVP. In the tournament, Kent hit .529 as he had nine hits, scored five runs and had 8 RBI, while Staker hit .375 with six hits, three runs, two doubles, a homer and 4 RBI and Dinter hit .400 with six hits, five runs scored, one double, two home runs, 8 RBI and he drew four walks. 

In the winner-take-all game against Greenville, who ends the season with a 23-20 record, Kent had three hits, including recording a single in the fourth inning to set a new school record for single season base hits. The single was Kent's 76th base hit of the season, which bettered the old mark of 75 set in 2012 by Tom Henke. 

Along with freshman third baseman Ben Swords (Freeport, Ill./Freeport) had two hits and scored two runs, while Dinter had three RBIs, including two RBI on a 2-run homer in the first inning. 

The Gorloks opened the scoring in the winner-take-all title game as they plated four runs on five hits and a Greenville error in the bottom of the first inning. In the inning, sophomore rightfielder Adam Lovell (Lafayette, Ind./Saint Joseph's) reached on a one-out infield single, moved to second on a passed ball and scored Dinter's two-run blast over the fence in left. The homer by Dinter was his fourth of the season. Following Dinter's homer, Kent and Swords recorded back-to-back singles and after Kent moved to third on a throwing error by Greenville rightfielder Bryce Pearce on Swords' single, sophomore catcher Joe Swanson (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine West) brought home Kent on his RBI single to right center and senior centerfielder Conner Wardlaw (Arnold, Mo./Jefferson College) brought home the next the next run on his squeeze bunt up the first base line that allowed Swords to score the fourth run of the game.

Webster added a fifth run in the bottom of the second on a sacrifice fly by Dinter, which plated Staker, who was hit by an Austin Marsh pitch to lead off the inning. Marsh would be pulled from the game and replaced on the mound by Logan Murphy after hitting Staker to open the frame.

The Gorloks added another run in the third on a single by Swords, a groundout by Swanson and an RBI single to left by junior second baseman Danny Strohm (St. Louis, Mo./Greenville University).

Webster completed the scoring in the bottom of the fourth inning as they plated two runs on two hits and a wild pitch. In the inning, Staker led off the frame with a single, moved to second when senior leftfielder Mike Wick (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett) was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs. Lovell would then move the runners up a base on his bunt and after Dinter struck out for the second out of the inning, Murphy uncorked a wild pitch that moved Wick to third and scored Staker to push Webster's lead to 7-0. Kent would then follow with base hit No. 77 of the season as he delievered an RBI single to right center that plated Wick with the eighth run of the game. 

Leading 8-0, Beaver (5-1) would be on cruise control as he retired the Panthers in order in the second and fifth innings and allowed just one base runner in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh before being replaced to start the eighth aby sophomore Shane Donovan (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett). 

Donovan would get into trouble in the eighth as the Panthers loaded the bases as along with a double by C.J. Falls, Jesse Getz and Travis Ralls each recorded singles to load the bases with no outs. The next Panther hitter, Klaiton Wolff, would hit into a 9-4-2 double play as he flew out to right and on the play, Falls would be thrown out at the plate tying to score Greenville's first run. After the double play, Donovan would strike out Marsh looking to end the inning. 

In the bottom of the ninth, Donovan walked pinch hitter Isaac Whitten to open the fame and after striking out the next two pinch hitters, Pearce would reach on a single to third base to put two runners on base, but Donovan would end the game by striking out Gabe Black to seal Webster's win and its SLIAC Tournament championship.

Donovan, who saw his first action on the mound in a week, pitched two innings and allowed four hits and no runs, while walking one and striking out four. 

Marsh (1-2) took the loss as he pitched 1-plus innings and allowed five hits and five runs, while no recording a strikeout or a walk. Muprhy and Cole Becker would combine to pitch the final seven innings and they combined to allow seven hits, and three runs, while walking one and fanning five. 

Ralls and Andrew Torbeck each had two hits for Greenville in the loss as they finished with nine hits in the winner-take-all game.

Meanwhile, in Saturday's first game of the championship round, Greenville outslugged the Gorloks as they recorded 14 hits, including back-to-back home runs in both the third and fifth innings off of senior Austin Beccue (Red Bud, Ill./Gibault Catholic) and then added three insurance runs in the ninth to force a seventh and final game in the SLIAC Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.

Neither team would score in the first two innings, but Greenville would finally dent the scoreboard in the top of the third as Getz drilled a 1-2 pitch from Beccue over the fence in left center for a 2-run homer and then Ralls followed with a deep solo shot the landed on the track beyond the left field fence at Robert E. Smith Field. The two home runs gave Greenville a 3-0 lead. 

Webster would get two of those runs back in the fourth as they recorded four hits and left the bases loaded against Austin Rexroad, who replaced Greenville starter Adam Lamb after the first batter he faced, Wick, drilled a ball that appeared to hit off his pitching hand. In the fourth, Swords brought home the first run on his RBI single through the left side and Wardlaw would bring home the second run on his sacrifice fly to center. Rexroad would then hit Strohm with a pitch to load the bases after Wardlaw's fly ball. 

In the fifth, Greenville added two more runs on back-to-back sole homer by Pearce and Falls to give the Panters a 5-2 lead. 

The Gorloks, though, would respond with a run in the bottom of the fifth thanks to back-to-back doubles by Lovell and Dinter, with the latter double bringing home Lovell for Webster's third run of the game.

Greenville responded in the top of the sixth as Marsh and Sam Hodges recorded back-to-back doubles to open the inning to give the Panthers a 6-3 lead. 

Webster brought themselves within two runs at 6-4 in the bottom of the seventh as they took advantage of an error, a hit batsman, a single by Dinter and fielder's choice grounder by Kent, which allowed Wick to score an unearned run.

Trailing by two runs entering the top of the ninth, Webster needed junior reliever Adrian Santiago (Chicago, Ill./Oakton College) to hold Panthers in check and turn it over to Webster's offense in bottom of the ninth, but Santiago did the opposite as he allowed a double and single with one out to open the frame. It looked like Webster had its second out of the inning as Santiago forced Getz to ground out to third, but on the play, Swords bobbled the ball as he attempted to throw home to get Pearce out at the plate after reaching on a double for an error. Ralls would add another run on his sacrifice fly to center and then Wolff followed Ralls' fly ball with an RBI single to left to give Greenville a 9-4 lead. Wolff's single chased Santiago from the game and brought freshman Andrew Padilla (Burbank, Ill./Reavis) out of the bullpen. Padilla would allow a single to Marsh to put runners on first and third with two outs, before forcing Austin Lawrence to ground out to end the frame.

In the bottom of the ninth, Wolff would allowed just a single to Staker in the inning, before ending the game by forcing Lovell to ground out and Dinter to pop out to seal his first save of the season. In three innings of work, Wolff allowed two hits and no runs, while striking out one.

Beccue (4-2) took the loss for Webster as he pitched 7.2 innings and allowed 10 hits and six runs, while fanning three and walking none in his 105 pitch outing. Santiago would toss one inning and allowed three hits and three unearned runs, while striking out one. 

Dinter had three of Webster's nine hits in the first game. 

Marsh had three hits, while Getz, Falls, Pearce and Chandler Dix each had two hits in the win as Greenville had 14 hits, including eight extra-base hits. 

Rexroad (2-2) picked up the win as he pitched 5.2 innings and allowed seven hits and four runs (three earned), while walking one and fanning five in his 79 pitch effort. 

Dinter, Kent, Staker and Beaver were joined on the SLIAC All-Tournament Team by Marsh, Getz and Jonah Moore from Greenville, Jimi Keating and Quenton Brownlee from Spalding and Blake Strebler from Westminster (Mo.) College.