WOOSTER, Ohio – The 20th-ranked College of Wooster baseball team completed a magical comeback at Art Murray Field on Sunday to win the 2019 NCAA Div. III Wooster Baseball Regional, as the Fighting Scots held off Case Western Reserve University 8-7 to force the winner-take-all game, and then eased past the Spartans 9-3.
"It was just a tremendous performance by the Fighting Scots," said head coach Tim Pettorini. "Our guys just battled all day long. Evan started it off by pitching into the seventh, and he was just outstanding. To be ahead 7-0 and they are creeping back in, creeping back in, and Andrew went in there and closed it out. The team was really calm (there at the end of game one). I thought it was just tremendous."
Wooster (30-13) dropped a tough 2-1 decision to the University of Rochester in Friday's regional opener, forcing the Scots to win four in a row to claim the regional crown. Wooster did just that, starting with a 13-3 win over Otterbein University on Saturday, and then the Scots put on a clinic during a 21-4 win over Rochester.
Now, Wooster squares off with Heidelberg University (33-13), winner of the Adrian College Regional, in a best-of-three series. The NCAA announced late Sunday that Heidelberg will serve as the host for the super regional. Action in the super regional starts on Friday, May 24.
Junior Dan Gail led off the eighth inning with a homer in game one, and that proved crucial come the ninth. CWRU's Jake Ryan blasted a solo shot to start the ninth, and that pulled the Spartans within one. Wooster was in danger of a possible walk-off hit, but sophomore Andrew Hill (save 2) struck out Noah Mehrle with the tying run at third and the winning run at second. Prior to the game-ending strikeout, senior Jacob Stuursma logged a pair of fine defensive plays out at short.
Stuursma factored heavily into both wins on both sides of the field. Offensively, he reached on an error to start game one, later stole third, and scored on senior Garrett Crum's sacrifice fly. Junior Dan Harwood scored soon after on a passed ball, which upped the Scots' early lead to 2-0. The Scots doubled that come the fourth when Stuursma's two-run double landed just inside the right-field foul line.
"What do you say about Jacob, the plays in the field, the hits, just phenomenal," added Pettorini. "Then the second game, he continued to set the tone and demand the guys play hard."
Wooster extended its lead to 7-0 in the top of the seventh. Stuursma started the inning with a single, scored on Harwood's one-out two-bagger, and then junior Harry Witwer-Dukes' long ball stayed just fair as it left the park down the left-field line.
Thanks to big leads in both games Saturday, Pettorini had the luxury of bringing both sophomore Evan Faxon (7-1) and senior Chandler Dippman (9-3) back on no-day's rest. Faxon did his part in game one with six innings of four-hit shutout baseball before running into a jam in the seventh.
Faxon walked Mehrle and Samuel Neal to start the seventh, and that led to a four-run inning for the Spartans. Jacob Kucia's two-run two-bagger down the left-field line put the first dent in the scoreboard for CWRU, while Mehrle's two-run dinger in the eighth made it an 8-6 game.
Mark Gross was the game one loser after allowing four runs (two earned) on four hits in 3 2/3 innings. He dropped to 0-2.
Dippman was the storyline in the nightcap, as he didn't allow a hit until the fourth. The utility ace went the distance allowing three runs on nine hits while striking out five. Offensively, Dippman contributed to the winning cause with a solo homer in the fifth, while his defense was on point in the fourth. Dippman got to a weak chopper in front of the plate in the top of that inning in time to retire Tyler Wypiszenski at first base, and on the next play, he hustled over to first in time to cover on a grounder on the right side that freshman Tyler Chumita had to range well to his left for.
"Chandler was just unbelievable," said Pettorini. "You hope your seniors step it up like that and they did. It was really a credit to those guys, and I couldn't be happier and more proud of them."
Earlier in the game, freshman Ben Gbur punched a payoff pitch up the middle in the third for Wooster's first hit of the winner-take-all game, and two batters later, it was 2-0, thanks to Stuursma's homer.
Wooster was in total control late, thanks to a combined five RBI from Witwer-Dukes and Gail, who went 4-for-4 between their trips to the dish in the sixth and seventh innings.
Harwood was the Scots' unstoppable force at the plate, as he went 5-for-6 with a pair of doubles and an RBI on Sunday. Gail and Witwer-Dukes finished with four hits each.
While it doesn't show up in the box score, Harwood and Strausbaugh's play in the outfield factored heavily into the win, as the duo in particular had to deal with extra gusty conditions at hitter-friendly Art Murray Field. Both had several spectacular plays and several nearly-highlight reel ones that they couldn't quite get to, but due to their hustle, kept the extra bases obtained by the Spartans to a minimum.
After setting down the first seven Scots he faced in order, Tony Smodilla (0-1) went on to allow four runs on five hits in the ensuing 3 2/3 innings.
Kucia and Rocco Maue combined for seven of CWRU's 20 hits in the twin bill.