Cougars Rise Up in Eleventh to Force Final Game

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May 13, 2018 – Having fought off three elimination games, the Concordia-Chicago Cougars advanced to the championship round of the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference tournament at Kapco Park in Mequon, WI. The Cougars were pitted against the Aurora University Spartan, the team that bested them in Thursday's first game. Faced with beating the Spartans twice, the Cougars had to go extra to get the first part done, but they overcame missing out on earlier scoring chances and gutted out a 5-2 win in 11 innings.

The Cougars batted first and would score first. Bryan VanDuser walked with one out and moved to third on a two-out single by Andrew Massey. Mitch Wilson then whistled one past the first baseman for a double to the right field corner as VanDuser crossed the plate. The Spartans got that back in the bottom of the inning, however, as Jeffrey Mayes homered to left.

Both pitchers put up zeroes over the next few innings, but CUC looked to have a great scoring chance in the fourth. Brady Roberts and Justin Rodriguez led off with singles, and Connor Brandon put down a textbook sacrifice bunt. However, AU starter James Blunt struck out his first batter of the game for the second out and then retired Jose Mercado as his sinking line drive was snagged on a knee-high catch by the center fielder.

The Cougars also missed out on a shot for the lead in the fifth. With Joe Silva on second and one out, Massey's grounder was fielded by the third baseman but thrown past the first baseman. As the ball rolled into foul territory, Silva rounded third and headed home, but the first baseman's throw to home was in time to catch Silva. Massey made second on the play, but Blunt retired the next batter to deny CUC once again.

Aurora came to bat and used the momentum to grab the lead for themselves. Collin Rivard led off with a base hit. He then stole second and, as the ball rolled away a short distance, Mercado was ruled to have interfered, sending Rivard to third. He then scored as Austin Wiskow ripped a double past third base for the go-ahead run. The Spartans threatened again in the sixth with a lead-off double, but
Wilson was able to throw out the runner at the plate on a fielder's choice grounder to keep the score at 2-1.

With the Cougars down to their final six outs, it fell to the team's hottest hitter this weekend to rescue them.  Massey went deep to left for CUC's first homer of the tournament. A base hit by Wilson drove Blunt from the game, but the Cougars could do no further damage. Alex Meyers retired the side in the bottom of the inning, and the game went to the ninth tied at 2-2.

The ninth and tenth innings were dominated by the bullpens, with Mike Formella making a rare non-save appearance for the Cougars. Instead, the Cougar got Formella the in with a three-spot in the 11th inning. Roberts led off with his third hit of the game and was replaced by pinch-runner Mateo Calle. After Rodriguez sacrificed Calle to second, Brandon slapped a single between third and short.

As the left fielder was charging in to make a throw to the plate, the ball got by him and rolled all the way to the wall. Calle scored, and Brandon never broke stride, coming all the way around to score the second run. Keegan Tyrell then added the insurance with a booming homer to left-center, his fourth of the year. Formella then retired the side in the bottom of the inning to close out a thriller and send the Cougars and Spartans to a final, winner-take-all game.