By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Wildcats return to national finals

The No. 1-ranked Linfield Wildcats start the NCAA Division III finals at 11:15 p.m. today vs. Ithaca in Appleton, Wis. trying to capture the elusive national championship that has escaped coach Scott Brosius in his six years at Linfield. Brosius has twice before led Linfield to the finals, the first time in 2008 when the Wildcats finished fifth, and the last time in 2010 when they finished third.

In 2011, Linfield again won the Northwest Conference but lost in its regional tournament. In 2012, the Wildcats didn’t even make the postseason but still had to suffer the indignity of hosting a regional. Brosius and the Wildcats used that as motivation this season and again won the NWC. Last weekend in Texas, Linfield went 4-1 to win the West and make it back to Appleton.

“A little extra incentive this year,” said senior Tim Wilson, who was named a First-Team All-American on Monday. Wilson hit .420 this season.

Joining Wilson on the First Team is outfielder Jake Wylie, who batted .387 with seven home runs and 60 RBIs.

Linfield sophomore Chris Haddeland was named the Pitcher of the Year. Haddeland takes the mound today for the Wildcats sporting a 0.99 ERA in 109 innings pitched. He is 13-1 this season, leading the nation in wins and setting a Linfield record for wins in a season. Haddeland, a 2011 graduate of McMinnville High School, pitched 16 innings of shutout baseball in the Texas Regional, earning two wins and a save. He was named the region’s most outstanding player and’s All-West Pitcher of the Year.

“He was huge for us,” Linfield coach Scott Brosius said. “It was really a pretty remarkable performance.”

“It was pretty spectacular,” Wilson said of Haddeland’s performance in Texas last week. “He wanted to go prove to everybody how good he was.”

Safe to say everyone knows who Chris Haddeland is now. To his credit, Haddeland said he was ready to pitch as much as he could in the regional. Brosius said Haddeland has a “rubber arm,” and Haddeland said he wanted to pitch the finale on Saturday.

“I was definitely ready to go,” Hadeland said. “As an athlete and a competitor you want to go as often as you can.”

The Wildcats flew back from Texas late Saturday and had a few days back in McMinnville before flying to Wisconsin on Wednesday. Brosius said there was practice and a banquet to attend Thursday evening, but having been there before, he said it helps mentally give a picture to his players about what is coming.

“There’s some comfort in the sense of being there before and knowing what to expect,” he said.

Once competition starts, Brosius said adjustments will be key. The Wildcats are unfamiliar with the other seven teams, and the team that adapts the fastest will be successful.

“It just boils down honestly to the teams that can make the adjustments the quickest,” he said.

More than the other seven teams left, the Wildcats believe they’ve already faced some of the best teams in the country. The West Regional featured three teams in the top 10 and four in the top 20 of two different polls.

“The West Region was a very difficult region,” Brosius said. “We saw four teams that are the same caliber of teams that are at the World Series.”

“(Last) weekend was great for us,” he said. “It certainly battle tested us. All of those things help you be prepared for a tournament like this.”

Ithaca (38-6) won its home regional vs. Cortland State, and comes into the tournament ranked No. 7 by If Linfield wins, it will play at 5:30 p.m. Saturday vs. the winner of Southern Maine and Millsaps. The Wildcats would play at 11 a.m. Saturday vs. the loser of that game if they lose to Ithaca.

Brosius said he has really liked the makeup of this year’s team from the beginning of the season, but what he respects most is its attitude and commitment. The players took last year’s disappointment and funneled it into trying to succeed this year, and it’s been a fun ride they don’t want to see ended.

“It’s been just unbelievable,” Wilson said of his final season of college baseball. “It’s hard to describe.

“I go in and any game could be my last at this point. I cherish every minute I’m on the field.”

Haddeland said he’s throwing the best he thinks he’s ever thrown.

“It’s been a blast,” he said. “It’s been the most fun I’ve had playing baseball in a long time.”

Brosius still wouldn’t let himself look too far into the weekend, saying things still haven’t changed for the Wildcats. Despite being a part of the final eight teams standing in the country, he said he wants his team to meet each matchup without looking ahead.

“You want your team to play its baseball when it matters the most,” Brosius said, “and then you just let the chips fall where they may.”

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