Wildcats headed to Appleton and NCAA Finals
Setting a single-season wins record and defeating the same top 10 club two out of three times on back-to-back days, top-ranked Linfield (38-7) advanced to the NCAA Division III Baseball Finals for the third time in program history after scratching out 3-1 win over sixth-ranked Trinity (40-9) in the final game played at Tornado Field.
The Wildcats face off against Ithaca Friday at 1:15 CDT at Time Warner Cable Field and Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis. in the first round of the NCAA championship finals.
“Difficult, grind, exciting and gut-wrenching,” are the words head coach Scott Brosius used to describe the last day of the Austin Regional, which came down to a season-on-the-line doubleheader between the Wildcats and Tigers.
After missing the previous two games due to an injury sustained in the first inning of Wednesday’s opener, Jake Wylie returned to the Linfield lineup Saturday as the team’s designated hitter. The junior delivered a game-winning RBI single in Game 11 to spark the ’Cats to a 3-1 lead heading into the seventh, needing to record just nine defensive outs to earn a return trip to Appleton.
Pitching in his third game of the tournament, ace Chris Haddeland held the Tigers scoreless over the final 5 2/3 innings to pick up the victory, his 13th of the year. Linfield’s righty pitched an incredible 16 scoreless innings in Austin, racking up 12 strikeouts against zero walks for two wins, a save and recognition as the tournament MVP.
A third regional championship in seven years did not come without drama for the Wildcats, who lost a 3-2 contest to the Tigers in the noon game before bouncing back for a 3-1 win in the afternoon.
“Trinity is a very good team. We knew that we were going to be in a dogfight all day long,” Brosius said. “After a disappointing first game, when we were right there in such a close game, I just thought we did a great job of regrouping and resetting ourselves emotionally and physically to play a very strong second game.”
Wylie, Corey VanDomelen and Nick Fisher each registered two hits for the Wildcats in Game 11. Defensively, four Linfield pitchers held the Tigers to just four combined runs over two games.
In the regional-clinching finale, Justin Huckins got the start for Linfield after pitching 2.1 relief innings the previous day. Haddeland came in to save the game in the final two innings.
Aside from Linfield’s 8-3 win over Pomona-Pitzer, all games in the Austion Regional were decided by two runs or less, including six one-run nailbiters. The eight runs scored by the Wildcats in Game 5 were also the highest of any contest; the next largest offensive output was four runs.
Linfield used seven different pitchers throughout the tournament, including two who had less than 20 innings of live action during the regular season.
Wilson, Fisher, Hopp, Haddeland and Aaron Thomassen were named to the all-tournament team. … Haddeland was honored as the most outstanding player. … Hopp led the tournament with a .500 (6-for-12) average and had the second highest on-base percentage (.571). ... Fisher paced the team with seven hits, five RBI and 14 total bases. … The Wildcat pitching staff recorded a 1.60 ERA for the tournament. Haddeland lowered his season ERA to a 0.99.