The cornerstone of a championship
There was absolutely no doubt who the starting pitcher was going to be for Linfield in the championship game vs. Southern Maine.
From the moment Linfield clinched a spot in the final pairing vs. either Ithaca or Southern Maine, everyone knew it was going to be sophomore Chris Haddeland.
“We knew the ball was going to be in his hands the final game,” Linfield baseball coach Scott Brosius said.
There was good reason, too. Haddeland, a 2011 graduate of McMinnville High School, had the best season in the history of Linfield baseball, earned D3baseball.com Pitcher of the Year honors and was a First-Team All-American. Haddeland was 15-1 this season with a 1.07 ERA. He led the nation in wins and had the fourth best ERA with twice as many innings as the three pitchers above him.
“He had a phenomenal year,” Brosius said.
Linfield beat Southern Maine 4-1 to win the national championship May 28. Haddeland wasn’t his sharpest in the early innings, but he got better as the day wore on. Haddeland gave up a leadoff double then a single to Southern Maine. He then threw a wild pitch that allowed Southern Maine’s leadoff hitter to score.
That was all the Huskies would get. Haddeland settled into a groove, his expression never changing, his mouth continuing to chomp on a piece of gum. His final line: nine innings pitched, eight hits allowed, three walks, one run allowed, five strikeouts.
Linfield scored four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, giving Haddeland all the space he needed. Outfielder Nick Fisher laughed when he talked about what it must have felt like in the Southern Maine dugout after the Wildcats took the lead.
“I can only imagine how demoralizing it is when you have the pitcher of the year going against you when you’re down by three runs in the championship game,” he said.
“As the year went on he was more and more confident,” Brosius said. “He has that killer instinct. When he has a lead, he’s just not going to give it up.”
The day before the national championship game, Linfield senior catcher Kyle Chamberlain talked with Haddeland and said there was no one he’d rather catch in his final game than the Wildcat’s ace.
“It was a completely true statement,” he said. “The way he’s able to control the ball and the movement he has and the confidence we all have in him. He’s incredible and he’s going to have a real bright future for sure.”
Earlier in the season when it was apparent Haddeland had come back for his sophomore year with a different attitude, Brosius said Haddeland had learned what it took to be a pitcher in college. He became an even harder worker in bullpens and learned valuable lessons while playing summer baseball. Haddeland sharpened his other pitches — including a sharp-breaking slider and a good change-up — and learned to utilize his lanky frame. He said he knows what kind of work he needs to do now to keep getting better.
“Hopefully if I keep doing that it will keep paying off for me,” Haddeland said.
What makes Haddeland’s story even more memorable, though, is he did it while playing for the school from his hometown. Haddeland was the 2011 Pacific Conference Pitcher of the Year for McMinnville High and led the Grizzlies to a conference championship and a 6A state quarterfinals appearance.
“When you get somebody from McMinnville to come into the program and have that kind of impact, it’s something the high schoolers follow and people in town follow,” Brosius said. “It was kind of that cliché ‘local boy makes good,’ and he made good this year.”
On May 31, Haddeland sat on the infield of Linfield’s baseball field with the rest of his team for a community celebration of the Wildcats’ first NCAA Division III national championship. Roy Helser Field was filled with family, friends and fans who came out to show their appreciation. McMinnville’s mayor even named May 31, 2013 in honor of the baseball team.
“Being able to take home a national championship for your home town is always great,” Haddeland said, “and being able to represent your community like that is a fantastic feeling.”
It will be hard for Haddeland to top what he did this season, but with the win barely behind him, the thing he will take away is that he had fun this season playing with friends.
“We got to play at the top level,” he said, “and it was a great group of guys to do it with.”