Small senior class packed a punch
“I told myself before the game, ‘when we dog pile after this thing, I don’t want to be on the bottom because I’m afraid something might be crushed,” Harlow said.
Superstitious types might criticize Harlow for thinking too far ahead, but Linfield beat Southern Maine 4-1 to win its first NCAA national championship in baseball. Harlow followed his plan. After Corey Van Domelen fielded a ground ball at shortstop and threw to Clayton Truex for the final out, Harlow stood at his spot near third base for a few seconds. He looked to the sky, raised his hands, and then followed fellow senior Tim Wilson to the dog pile near the mound.
“Just loving it,” Harlow said. “It was being a kid all over again.”
Linfield’s run to the national title capped the careers of four seniors that all played pivotal roles this year for the Wildcats. Wilson, from Redmond, Wash., was a First-Team All-American and led the Wildcats in batting with a .401 average. Harlow, from Baker City, started 48 of Linfield’s 50 games this season. Infielder Michael Hopp, from Portland, batted .306 this year. Catcher Kyle Chamberlain, also from Portland, played in 49 games and started 35.
All four started the national championship game vs. Southern Maine.
“We only lose four but they’re important,” Linfield coach Scott Brosius said. “Not only for on the field but their leadership. They were great leaders and really important part of our program.”
The thing that should cause some worry for other teams in Division III baseball is that Linfield returns five of its nine starters from the College World Series and its entire pitching staff. That’s right, all 12 pitchers that appeared in multiple games for the Wildcats this year return in 2014, including Zach Manley, who was injured.
Still, the impact of losing Wilson, Harlow, Chamberlain and Hopp will be felt. Wilson never batted below .400 in his three seasons at Linfield. He was a Second Team All-American in 2011, Third Team All-American in 2012, and he finally made the first team this year. Wilson batted leadoff in all 50 of Linfield’s games this season, helping the Wildcats get off to quick starts. Linfield was 20-2 when scoring in the first inning.
Harlow only batted .260 this season, but he contributed in other ways. He had 26 RBIs and more than once came through with clutch hits.
Chamberlain batted .189 this year in 143 at bats, but he was second on the team in sacrifice hits and was a superb defensive catcher.
Hopp had a .408 on base percentage, and even though he wasn’t a regular starter (only started 14 games), he was in there for the national title game in Appleton.
In the bottom of the fourth inning when the Wildcats scored four runs to take a 4-1 lead on Southern Maine, Harlow, Chamberlain, Hopp and Wilson came up in order. With the score 1-1 and first base open, Harlow was intentionally walked. Chamberlain laid down a bunt single that scored Kramer Lindell to give the Wildcats the lead. Next pitch, Hopp was hit by a pitch. The bases were full of seniors, and Wilson reached on a fielder’s choice to the pitcher.
“It’s going be really hard to lose our seniors,” junior Nick Fisher said. “Not only because they’re terrific ball players, all four of them, they’re really savvy and know how to play the game, but just keeping the morale up. You can’t even put into words what a guy like Jordan Harlow does. You look at his stat line and think he’s an all right player, but he got huge hits for us all year.”
Fisher said a big difference between last year’s team and this year was the chemistry, and players like Wilson were the reason. Wilson was always a positive influence on the team, and players that keep the dugout on an even keel can’t be underestimated.
“The whole ride itself has just been awesome,” Wilson said. “Great group of guys. We’re all best friends and get along so well.”
Brosius said the four will be sorely missed, but that’s what athletics are about. Wilson, Harlow, Chamberlain and Hopp helped bring along the younger players, and in turn, they will keep things going.
“The older guys pass the torch to the younger guys,” Brosius said. “Our hope is, and we believe, that we will have a great group of seniors next year that will do the same thing.”
The Wildcats had their team banquet May 30 after returning from Appleton, and during the night, Brosius talked about the way the four seniors ended their careers. They won their final game in a Linfield uniform and did it in championship fashion.
“It’s your last game and you win a national title,” Harlow said. “It’s what every college senior playing at any level wants to do.”
“Couldn’t have scripted it any better,” Chamberlain said.