Championship season full of firsts for Linfield
“We want to win a national championship.”
It’s not cliché because it’s cheesy or untrue. Every team competes to win it all, of course. It’s cliché because the saying has been said time and again to the point where athletes and coaches say the words while coasting through an interview.
Linfield baseball coach Scott Brosius knows a thing or two about winning championships, and he wanted to rid his players of the typical views of winning a title.
“Everybody talks in the terms of the ideal of winning,” Brosius said last week. “Everybody can say that, but are you really willing to do what it takes to win? All the offseason work. Do you really see yourself doing that? Do you see that as a tangible, realistic thing?
“I think our guys did.”
Brosius and the No. 1-ranked Linfield baseball team won the NCAA Division III national championship last week in Appleton, Wis., defeating Southern Maine 4-1 in the championship finale May 28. It capped the most successful season in school history, with 42 wins and a host of other program firsts.
“Just a great ride for us,” Brosius said. “A lot of things have to go right.”
The story of Linfield’s first NCAA baseball championship actually starts in May 2012. That’s when the Wildcats were finishing a disappointing 25-15 season that saw Linfield not get selected by the NCAA for the postseason. Instead, Linfield players worked during the regional that the campus hosted, watching as Whitworth advanced to Appleton.
“There were some chips that guys carried,” Brosius said. “This year, guys didn’t want to leave any doubt.”
The Wildcats sure didn’t. Linfield raced out to a 12-2 record and were 5-0 in the Northwest Conference by March 9. They won eight games in a row in March and then followed that up with a 10-game streak in April. Linfield ascended to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time since joining the NCAA, and it won the conference by four games over George Fox.
The most satisfying part of the regular season came near the end when the Wildcats swept the Bruins at home in three games, returning the favor of a George Fox sweep from 2012 that probably kept Linfield from the playoffs. The three wins this spring vs. George Fox clinched the conference championship and a No. 1 ranking in its regional.
In the Texas Regional in Austin, Linfield won four of its five games to advance to Appleton. Brosius said his players didn’t want to go to the College World Series just to be there.
The Wildcats were a force in their first three games. National Pitcher of the Year Chris Haddeland opened the world series for Linfield with a good performance, and the Wildcats beat Ithaca (N.Y.) 8-6. In game two, Linfield knocked off Southern Maine 10-1. The Wildcats clinched their spot in the championship finals by defeating UW-Wisconsin Stevens Point 5-3 in come-from-behind fashion.
A loss vs. Ithaca didn’t derail Linfield, but did change the final matchup to a winner-take-all game. With Haddeland again on the mound, Linfield scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take control.
Brosius shared hugs with longtime Linfield coaches Scott Carnahan and Jim Ray. Carnahan played baseball for the Wildcats starting in 1972 (just missing the 1971 national title team), and he also coached the baseball team for 22 seasons. He’s the program’s leader in wins. Ray is also a Linfield alumnus and has coached for 35 years.
“That’s why this feels so good,” Brosius said. “It’s about more than me. It’s about more than the team. It’s about two coaches who have been right there on the doorstep and finally crossed over. It’s about the campus and community.
“There’s just so much pride with our school and our athletic programs that it just feels great to bring the title home.”