Linfield wins first NCAA D3 championship

APPLETON, Wis. — The smile on Tim Wilson’s face said it all.

Wilson, a senior left fielder, had just helped the Linfield Wildcats to a 4-1 victory Tuesday in the title game of the NCAA Division III College World Series over Southern Maine, and the obvious joy on his face couldn’t be hidden.

“This is the No. 1 goal. Words can’t express what it means,” a jubilant Wilson said afterwards. “Winning it for the coaches, Jimmy Ray and Scott Caranahan. They have been here so long. Jimmy Ray has been here over 30 years and never won a title. This whole season was for them.”

The Wildcats came up a little short last season, finishing fourth in the Northwest Conference and narrowly missing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, but 2013 was a different season. The Wildcats didn’t start the season in the top 25 but slowly climbed their way up the rankings. By the first week of the official rankings, the Wildcats, at 7-1 were No. 22. They moved up steadily, flirting with No. 1 and No. 2 for a while before landing in the top spot in week nine, a spot they would hold for the rest of the season.

Coming into the College World Series as the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, the Wildcats (42-8) were sure to get the best from every team they played, and it was evident from the first game of the tournament, an 8-6 victory over Ithaca (N.Y.) College. Linfield jumped out to an early seven run lead, only to see Ithaca fight back and make it a game. The Bombers had loaded the bases in the ninth inning but were only able to push across one run.

“That is what you would expect,” Linfield coach Scott Brosius said after the game. “Everyone here is good, they’re here because they battle their way through tough games like that. You certainly didn’t expect that team to go away.”

Game two was an easy victory for the Wildcats. The Southern Maine Huskies broke a NCAA Division III College World Series record in the process. Unable to slow down the Wildcat offense in a 10-1 loss, the Huskies threw a tournament record 10 pitchers at Linfield. Sophomore Aaron Thomassen was the only pitcher the Wildcats needed. The righty threw a complete game, giving up one run on six hits while striking out nine.

The next game for the Wildcats turned out to be up until that point probably the game of tournament. Linfield squared off against the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a team that had the closest thing to a home field advantage in the tournament. Clayton Truex was the spark for the Wildcats in the 5-3, come-from-behind win over the Pointers. The senior stroke an RBI double in the seventh inning to get Linfield on the board, and was then driven in on a sacrifice fly by Jordan Harlow. Runs were at a premium in the pitcher’s duel, and Truex understood the importance of his hit.

“Up until that inning, it was a rarity to have a guy on second base, just a base hit away from scoring,” Truex said. “It was great to know when we got opportunities, we take advantage.”

Wilson was able to drive in a run with a triple in the eighth to tie the game at three. Jake Wylie brought home the winning run, with a sacrifice fly, and Kramer Lindell added an insurance run with a double.

Linfield got strong pitching from junior Zach Brandon. Brandon, the Cottage Grove native, threw seven innings, giving up three runs on nine hits. He struck out five.

With that victory, the Wildcats secured their place in the championship game, regardless of the outcome of their next game, a 6-4 loss to Ithaca.

In the championship game, the Wildcats faced off vs. Southern Maine once again and ran into one of the great pitching performances in the tournament. The Huskies’ Andrew Richards, who had thrown 12 innings of relief in the game before against Ithaca on Tuesday morning, started the contest and went another three strong innings. The Wildcats finally got to him in the fourth, scoring four runs in the inning to take a lead they would never relinquish.

Those four runs would be all the support pitcher Chris Haddeland needed.

“The three run cushion definitely helped me out. It’s always nice to pitch with the lead, obviously,” Haddleand, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Pitcher, said. “Our defense played great today. I knew I just had to throw strikes and the team would take care of the rest.”

For Brosius, who has three World Series rings in his playing days with the New York Yankees, this title was just as special.

“This ranks up there. Believe me, this is special,” he said. “You win as a professional and there is a part of that that you carry with you and is a special deal, but this is about more than me and about more than us. This is about a college campus and a community.

“This is a big deal. Everyone talks about winning as an ideal but an actual tangible reality. Is it something that you can see yourself doing? Is it something that you can put yourself there and make it happen? We talk in those terms. There are people that have been in this game for a long, long time and never had the chance to sit here, so this is special for sure.”

The championship is the first NCAA title in baseball for the Wildcats, who won NAIA titles in 1966 and 1971.

“This has been an amazing group,” Brosius said. “Before the season started and people were asking about the team, and not even talking to these guys but talking to other people, I said I really like this team. I mean, there is talent on this team, for sure, and the pieces fit very well, but I really like what this team was all about, character-wise and heart-wise. Everything was about team first and this moment. It is really fun when you have guys with that kind of commitment. And we had very positive leadership from the seniors on the team. It makes it a lot of fun.”

There will be a national championship celebration at 4 p.m. today at Roy Helser Field on the Linfield Campus that is free for the public.

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