TLU joins R-MC for a little Monday madness

By John McGraw

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – In a back-and-forth game of momentum swings, big hits, big plays and a consequential ninth inning, a resilient Texas Lutheran squad kept its season alive with a 9-7 victory over Concordia-Chicago in an epic showdown on Sunday night at neuroscience group Field.

Texas Lutheran (41-10), after 22 innings of baseball, on Sunday (into Monday), forced a winner-take-all game with Concordia-Chicago (40-14) that will be played on Monday afternoon. The winner of the game will earn a spot in the Championship Series against either Randolph-Macon or UT-Tyler. The Championship Series is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

The Bulldogs began their Sunday with their season on the line in an elimination game against Swarthmore and turned in an emotional 3-2 victory in 13 innings. In the night cap, Spencer Brandt’s RBI single through a partially drawn-in infield keyed a three-run ninth inning that gave TLU a 9-6 lead. Reliever Drew Waller slammed the door shut in the bottom of the ninth stranding the potential tying run on first base.

Jose Mercardo handled nine chances from the shortstop position on Sunday but it was a ball to the third baseman that proved crucial to the Cougars' first loss in the 2018 D-III World Series.
Photo by Kylie Bridenhagen,
Riley Schaefer is back to the form he showed as the 2018 West Region Player of the Year. After an 0-for-9 start, he has gone 5-for-12.
Photo by Kylie Bridenhagen,

“We played 22 innings of pressure-filled baseball today. It was really unbelievable against two great ballclubs” said Texas Lutheran coach Greg Burnett. “Tonight’s game, there was a lot of adrenaline and a lot of emotion. We’re not done yet. We’re not ready to be done.”

“I thought that was a tremendous game. That’s kind of what the final four is. Two really good teams battling it out,” said Concordia-Chicago coach Mike Stawski. “It took the 27th out to stop us. Hats off to them.”

CUC forged a 6-6 tie in the eighth, battling back from what had been a 6-4 deficit. Jose Mercado’s fourth hit of the game knocked out Texas Lutheran reliever Clint Johns and placed runners on first and third with one out. Johns had entered in the second inning to relieve starter Zach Perry when the game was tied, 3-3. He kept the Cougars off balance for the next 6.1 frames, limiting CUC to just one run on five hits with seven strikeouts.

“Clint Johns came in and I thought he was outstanding and he settled this thing down and allowed us to get back in it offensively.”

A perfectly executed safety squeeze to the right side of the infield by Bryan VanDuser scored Keegan Tyrell from third to the game. VanDuser and Mercado combined to account for six hits, four runs and three RBI. Kevin Coppin also drove in three runs for the Cougars.

VanDuser was the first batter faced by Texas Lutheran reliever Drew Waller. However, Waller settled down and got Joe Silva to line out to shortstop to end the inning.

In Texas Lutheran’s 22nd inning of the day, the Bulldogs found a way to come through. Matthew Lemon’s sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk to Chad Curtis gave the Bulldogs runners on first and second with one out. Stawski called upon reliever Mike Formella to face TLU’s Spencer Brandt. Brandt smashed a single through the left side with the infield partially drawn in that scored Keaton Boysen from third to give the Bulldogs the lead.

“I was just trying to drive something hard,” said Brandt who jumped on a Formella curveball. Brandt finished 2-for-3 with three runs scored and one RBI.

Riley Schaefer, who had driven in the winning run for the Bulldogs against Swarthmore earlier in the day, came up with the bases loaded. Schaefer’s ground ball to the left side scored another TLU run and a throwing error on the play allowed a second runner to cross the plate. Schaefer’s bat was as steamy as the weather on Sunday with five hits and four RBI in two games.

Thomas Varner continued his clutch hitting in the World Series as well. He was 2-for-3 with an RBI and two walks.

Down three, CUC was down but not out. Mitch Wilson singled with one out in the ninth and moved to third after a wild pitch and a ground out. Kevin Coppin collected his third RBI of the game with a two-out single into right field. Connor Brandon, the potential tying run, got on base with a single as well. However Texas Lutheran would not be denied and Drew Waller induced a game-ending ground out to close out his second appearance of the day.

Burnett says his team has been battling back all season long, in particular since the conference tournament. “I think our resiliency, it wasn’t just today -- it wasn’t on display just today but it has been on display all season, but in particular the last month.”

The game could have ended much differently, though several twists and turns kept everyone at Neuroscience Group Field on Sunday night guessing early. The game changed dramatically in the first few innings. CUC stormed out of the gate with three runs in the last of the first on TLU starter Zach Perry. Kevin Coppin had the biggest hit of the rally with a two out, two-RBI single up the middle after VanDuser had opened the scoring as the second batter of the inning. The Cougars had the bases loaded with two outs when Keegan Tyrell hit a low line drive to shortstop Eric Rabinowitz. The ball appeared to short hop into Rabinowitz’s glove, however, the umpires ruled that Rabinowitz had caught the ball for the inning’s third out. Stawski protested, however the ruling was upheld and the play, because a catch was called for the final out in the infield, was not reviewable.

Immediately afterwards, TLU roared back to tie the game, 3-3, in the top of the second. A shallow pop up into left field was misplayed by the Cougars as third baseman VanDuser and Jose Mercado collided both attempting to catch the ball, which allowed runners on first and second. The Bulldogs went on to load the bases after a Chad Curtis sacrifice bunt and a Spencer Brandt hit-by-pitch. Rabinowitz hit a long fly ball to left field that was able to bring home Keaton Boysen on a sacrifice fly. The suddenly hot Riley Schaefer pulled the Bulldogs even with a two-out double smashed into right-center field, but the rally ended when Schaefer was picked off second by CUC starter Adam Schmitt.

The aggressive CUC lineup, which sent nine men to the plate in the first, kept the pressure on in the second. Mercado ripped his second hit in as many innings and a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Bryan VanDuser sent Mercado scampering over to third. Clint Johns came on to relieve Zach Perry but was unable to prevent further damage. Johns struck out the dangerous Joe Silva for the second out. Andrew Massey lifted a Johns’ offering into left field just shy of the warning track which was deep enough to score Mercado with CUC’s go-ahead run, putting CUC in the lead, 4-3.

Momentum settled firmly into Texas Lutheran’s corner in the in the third inning.

TLU clawed back into the game with a two-out rally. Tyler Cauley walked and Keaton Boysen singled him to second. The next batter, Matthew Lemon, roped a single into right field that chased Cauley home from second, tying the game, 4-4. The Bulldogs had the potential go-ahead run 90 feet away but the two-out surge fell short. Keegan Tyrell, who had been robbed of a hit at the end of the first inning made a diving catch running in from center field to take away a potential base hit from Chad Curtis to end the inning.

However the pendulum stayed in TLU’s favor in the fourth with Johns quieting the CUC bats, striking out the side in order.

The Bulldogs used that momentum swing into the lead for the first time in the game. A lead-off double chased CUC starter Adam Schmitt but Noah Dressler retired the first two batters he faced. But TLU would not be denied and Ben Marvin bounced a two-out single up the middle to push TLU into the lead. Marvin moved to second on a wild pitch and raced home to give Texas Lutheran a 6-4 lead on a Thomas Varner slice into right field.

“You could almost feel the momentum after that shift. I feel they were in total control from the third inning going on,” said Stawski.

VanDuser was the only Cougar to solve TLU’s Clint Johns. He slugged a Johns pitch into the Wisconsin night and over the left-field fence to bring CUC within one, 6-5. Johns set down six of the next seven Cougars before yielding a one-out triple into the right-field corner by Mercado with just one out in the sixth. Mercado, however, would not advance past third. The TLU senior got revenge on VanDuser, striking him out for the second out of the inning and then forced Joe Silva into a fly out to left to end the inning with TLU still ahead, 6-5.

The offenses quieted down in the later innings with Johns and the CUC bullpen going punch-for-punch. Abelardo Paz Agudelo and Meyers each provided a scoreless inning of relief with Myers pitching safely through the perilous top of the TLU order with a man in scoring position. Myers sat down Thomas Varner and Tyler Cauley back-to-back to end the inning.