North Central survives in dramatic walkoff

More news about: Mass-Boston | North Central (Ill.)

By Pat Coleman

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -- When you think of an elimination game on the third day of the Division III baseball championships, visions of high-scoring games probably come to mind. One of those games was 9-6 last year. The first elimination game on Sunday was a 10-3 win for Roanoke over Concordia-Chicago.

The second elimination game, on Sunday, defied convention. Scoreless through three innings, each starter went deep into the game and the teams traded ninth-inning runs before North Central survived by a 5-4 score.

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And Mass-Boston was eliminated. In the most heartbreaking of possible ways, with a defensive replacement fumbling an easy two-out grounder at third base, allowing Jeremy Quade to reach base and Colin Weilbacher to score from third. 

North Central's amazing run continued, this time with a little help from Mass-Boston.
By Steve Frommell,

Mass-Boston reliever Bryan Kaufman sits dejected after inducing a groundout that should have gotten the Beacons safely to the 10th inning.
Photo by Steve Frommell,

North Central (31-17) advanced to play Cal Lutheran in a game scheduled for Sunday night.

Weilbacher had smacked a double to right field to get things started in the bottom of the ninth off of reliever Joe Maguire, who had already thrown two innings of relief. Bryan Kaufman came on to replace him with the tying run in scoring position and got two key outs, retiring No. 8 hitter Matt Sutherland on an infield pop-up and Robert Zebrauskas on a fly to center. But Weilbacher moved from second to third on the pop-up, which forced second baseman Josh Lopez to run back on the ball and make the catch in foul ground behind first base.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fly ball move a guy to third base hit in that spot,” North Central coach Ed Mathey said. “That’s one thing that we’ve tried to preach all year. We thought we had a little bit of footspeed overall with our team, so it’s not just stealing bases, it’s first to thirds, it’s taking extra bases when you have the chance.”

Michael Mateja was intentionally walked to set up the force and Mass-Boston elected to pitch to Quade with two outs. He smacked a grounder to third which Danny Brown knocked down, but never picked up. Weilbacher scrambled home with the winning run as Quade dug for first to beat it out.

 “We had to make some switches late and we played a guy out of position. Danny Brown’s not a third baseman,” Mass-Boston coach Brendan Eygabroat said after the game. “You never want to lose a game on an error. Danny Brown’s a guy we had confidence we had in putting out there, but he just didn’t complete the play that time.”

“We’ve won in some crazy manners this year but that one was really interesting, a little bit different,” Mathey said. “You’ll take the wins but you always like to win on things that your guys do as opposed to miscues on the other side.”

Mass-Boston had scrambled just to force a bottom of the inning. Down to its last three outs, the Beacons scraped together a run off reliever Nick Rogalski in the ninth. Anthony Searles led off with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Josh Lopez smashed a grounder inches off the third-base line to bring Searles around with the tying run.

It seemed as if this game were always destined for a low score and a tight finish. North Central turned double plays in the first and second to erase baserunners and the game was scoreless through three.

The Beacons finally got on the board in the fourth inning. Chris Fowler drew a one-out walk and came around to score from first when Luke Nagle smacked a ball down the left field line. It was an aggressive decision by Eygabroat to send the runner early in a tie game.

“My mindset is when you’re struggling with the sticks you’ve got to be more aggressive than maybe you would be,” Eygabroat said. “Fowler’s not going to win too many footraces but I think it was a well-hit ball and he got around the bases pretty well. I think we knew we were going to have to push the envelope.”

North Central answered in the bottom half of the fourth. John Carmody lofted a fly ball deep into the gap in left-center that UMB left fielder Nick Herzog got in his glove but couldn’t hold onto as he hit the wall, going for a double. Then Sing Fong followed with a single to left and Carmody, running with two outs, was able to score easily to tie the game at 1-1.

The Beacons retook the lead in the top of the sixth, when Mantoni walked, went to third on a single by Fowler and scored on Herzog’s sacrifice fly, one of his two on the game.

But this lead didn’t last, either, with the heart of the order up for North Central. Jeremy Quade led off the bottom half of the inning with a single through the left side and Nick Sotiros launched the most majestic home run of the tournament so far, a high-arcing blast that rang off the scoreboard in left-center field.

“I got a fastball, it was middle-in,” Sotiros said. “The at-bat before I put a good swing, just out in front and flied out, so I knew another fastball was coming and I found it.”

It was another situation where the Cardinals were tough with two outs as well. Sing Fong drew a two-out walk later in the inning and came around to score when Colin Weilbacher doubled off the wall in left-center to increase North Central’s lead to 4-2.

Mass-Boston finally got consecutive runners on to lead off the inning vs. Hoh in the top of the eighth, as Josh Lopez was hit by a pitch and Dan Mantoni walked, chasing Hoh. Kyle Boudrias reached on a fielder’s choice off Rogalski, putting runners at the corners and Fowler walked to load the bases. Nick Herzog brought Lopez sliding home safely with a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 4-3.

Russell Hoh got the start and went seven innings, allowing five hits and three runs in picking up a no-decision. Rogalski blew the save and a win for Hoh with the run in the top of the ninth, but ended up with the win to improve to 6-2. Maguire took the loss for Mass-Boston, his second in three decisions on the season.

“Russ has been as hot as any pitcher on our staff,” Mathey said. “Since he’s hit stride, he’s really given us a chance to win every time he’s taken the mound. We’re really confident when he’s out there.”

Sotiros had two RBI. Weilbacher went 2-for-4 with an RBI and the game-winning run to help pace the North Central offense. Mass-Boston (38-12) had two RBI from Herzog, while Searles went 2-for-4.