Cougars Frustrated in Ninth-Inning Loss to Bulldogs

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May 27, 2018 – Concordia University Chicago Cougar fans might have felt a sense of déjà vu on Sunday night at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, WI. The Cougars were set to tangle with Texas Lutheran University in a late-night contest (in fact, a 9:45 start). This time, a win would have pushed CUC through to the final, best-of-three round of the World Series, but the Bulldogs recovered from a couple of early CUC shots and beat the Cougars 9-7.

Knowing the importance of scoring first, the Bulldogs looked to make the first strike as their lead-off man walked. The number two batter worked a full count before Adam Schmitt coaxed the 4-6-3 double play. A base hit continued the inning, but Schmitt then escaped the first with a fly to left.

The Cougars then got their turn and wasted no time. Jose Mercado lined the second pitch between the left and center fielders, the hit good for two bases. Mercado then moved up on a wild pitch and scored on Bryan VanDuser's single to left. The Cougars eventually loaded the bases with two out, and Kevin Coppin turned a good inning into a better inning with a two-run smash up the middle for a three-run lead.
Unlike last night, the Bulldogs did not wait to make their comeback. After a lead-off double, an error on a pop-up in short left field put Schmitt and the Cougars in a jam. A sacrifice fly, which should have been the third out, scored the first run, and Riley Schaefer followed with a two-run single just over Mitch Wilson's leaping attempt at second to tie the game 3-3. However, Schmitt got himself out of trouble by picking Schaefer off of second base.

Mercado led off the second and got CUC rolling again with a lead-off base hit. VanDuser then laid down a sacrifice and got a bonus when the pitcher threw the ball away, Mercado gong to third. The speedy shortstop scored moments later on a sacrifice fly by Andrew Massey for a 4-3 lead. This lead did not last long either, as the Bulldogs scored a two-out run in the third for a second deadlock.

"That third inning, I thought, was the turning point of the game," said CUC head coach Mike Stawski. "We had the three-run first and then, after they tied it, we came back with a run and got the lead on them again. But then, with two out and nothing going on in the third, they get a run to tie it again, and then their reliever strikes out the side in the bottom of the inning. They would score in the fourth, and we would never get the momentum fully back."

Texas Lutheran remained on the attack, and a lead-off double in the fourth drove Schmitt out of the game. Noah Dressler came in and got the first two outs, but Ben Marvin lined a single to right just in front of Silva as the lead run scored. Marvin then stole second and scored on a hit by Thomas Varner to give the Bulldogs a 6-4 lead.

The Cougars got one of those runs back in the bottom of the inning. Fittingly, it was VanDuser, who hit his last homerun in the first game of the World Series last year. He got hold of a 1-0 pitch and lifted a towering fly to left that cleared the fence easily, making it a 6-5 game.

Frustration continued as CUC missed out on a grand opportunity in the sixth. With one out, Mercado lined one over the first baseman's head, and the ball rolled all the way to the right field corner. Mercado had a triple, and the Cougars' tying run was just 90 feet away. However, Clint Johns prevailed in a 10-pitch at-bat by striking out VanDuser, and Silva flew deep to left but not deep enough as the Cougars were denied.

The Cougars came back from the frustration of that inning to finally get the game back even in the eighth. Connor Brandon walked to start the inning, but he as forced at second on a bunt attempt by Keegan Tyrell. Mercado then singled to right-center for his fourth hit of the game, sending Tyrell to third. The Bulldogs, who had used their regular closer earlier Sunday in the game versus Swarthmore, went to Drew Waller, who had three saves to his credit in 2018. On his first pitch, VanDuser showed bunt and pushed it toward first base. Tyrell scored, and Mercado moved to second on the successful safety, but Waller came back to retire Silva and keep the game tied at 6-6.

Alex Meyers began his second inning of work in the ninth, but Keaton Boysen began it with his third hit of the night. A balk and a sacrifice put him at third with one out and, after Meyer issued Chad Curtis an intentional pass, Stawski went to the bullpen to Mike Formella in hopes of getting the double play. Spencer Brandt went down 0-2 in the count and fouled a pitch off before getting a fastball and smashing it past VanDuser at third for the go-ahead hit. The Bulldogs would add two more runs as the relay on an attempted double play sailed past first base.

The Cougars gave it one final shot in the ninth. Wilson, who was on base four times tonight, scored on a two-out single by Kevin Coppin. Brandon kept things going with a base hit, and suddenly the Cougars had the tying runs on base. Tyrell fell behind 0-2 but hit a smash to third. The third baseman dove and gloved the ball. His throw to first was in the dirt, but the first baseman dug it out and just managed to keep his foot on the bag. Tyrell was called out on a bang-bang play, and TLU had forced one more game to decide Pool B at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow.

"Hats off to Texas Lutheran." Said Stawski. "They made the plays tonight, and they also had the ball bounce their way. Baseball is a game of inches, as we all know. If Van Duser is playing maybe a step back on Brandt's ball in the ninth, maybe we turn a double play. If their third baseman is playing a step more to the right on Tyrell's ball in the ninth, then that ball is a base hit and we may still be playing. But that's the game of baseball. It went their way tonight."

The CUC-Texas Lutheran game will be the second of two "if necessary" games on Monday. Randolph-Macon College and the University of Texas-Tyler will play a noon game to decide the winner of Pool A. The two winners will then begin the final round on Tuesday.