By Erik Buchinger
GRAND CHUTE, Wis. – Tyler Cauley’s eighth inning home run guided Texas Lutheran to a 5-4 win over Concordia-Chicago on Monday to advance to the national championship series.
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Cauley led off the bottom of the eighth and worked a full count before launching a shot over the fence in left field to score the game-winning run.
|The Texas Lutheran dugout empties with the final out of the Bracket 2 title game.
Photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
|Dylan Murrell got Concordia-Chicago's Mitch Wilson to ground out in a double play to end the Bracket 2 title game.
photo by Steve Frommell, d3photography.com
“Going into the at-bat, I had been struggling throughout the day, barely missing balls,” Cauley said. “I talked to Riley Schaefer right before the at bat, and he said to just trust what you know and see what pitch you can get right over the plate and just let it fly. Right when I hit it, I knew it was gone, so it was a pretty cool experience.”
Texas Lutheran coach Greg Burnett said he was not surprised with the home run because Cauley had several key hits throughout the season.
“We were fortunate Tyler got a hold of one,” Burnett said. “He’s been clutch all year.”
Joe Silva led off the top of the ninth inning with a single for Concordia, and after a fly out, Mitch Wilson hit a ground ball to second baseman Ben Marvin, who flipped it to shortstop Eric Rabinowitz, and relayed the ball to first in time for the game-ending double play.
“It couldn’t have ended any better,” Burnett said. “Those guys have been awesome all year long, and we’re fortunate to have the best defensive middle infield I’ve probably coached here.”
Concordia-Chicago got on the board early in the top of the first inning with a bases-loaded fielder’s choice to shortstop hit by Mitch Wilson. Everybody was safe on a throwing error, scoring two runs for the Cougars.
Texas Lutheran had runners at first and third with one out in the bottom half of the first, but Concordia pitcher Mike Formella retired the next two batters and did not allow another baserunner until the fourth inning.
Formella did not allow a run in the first four innings but finished with six innings pitched and allowed four runs on nine hits and zero walks with two strikeouts.
“I think I just fell behind too many hitters,” Formella said. “They got into fastball counts, and they didn’t miss. They just put the ball in play, found holes and that was the difference.”
With two outs in the top of the fourth, Jose Mercado singled up the middle to score Kevin Coppin from second base to give the Cougars a 3-0 lead.
Texas Lutheran’s senior starting pitcher Dylan Drgac had a no decision and threw five innings, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts including the last batter he faced.
“I faced those guys two days ago, and I think we saw what happened,” Drgac said. “I didn’t even make it out of the third inning, and it was great to get back out there and be able to throw the ball again and get after these guys one more time. Knowing this is probably my last start, it’s definitely one of my last times to go up on the mound and throw – it’s awesome that we’re getting to go to the final two teams and play those guys from Tyler.”
Drgac credited Advil, Tylenol and Biofreeze to help him work through lower back pain and shoulder soreness prior to the game.
“I think he’s really selling [his injuries] short,” Burnett said. “We’ve been riding him all year. He’s had back issues for a month and a half now and obviously his arm - we’ve rode him pretty hard.”
Texas Lutheran tied the game up with three runs in the fifth. Eric Rabinowitz hit a RBI double down the right field line, and Riley Schaefer drove in two runs with a single.
Texas Lutheran took its first lead of the game 4-3 in the sixth inning with a run-scoring single to right field for Matthew Lemon to score Keaton Boysen, who reached with a double.
Concordia responded with a sacrifice fly for Andrew Massey to score Bryan VanDuser and tie the game at four in the seventh.
Despite the loss, Concordia head coach Mike Stawski said he was proud of his senior class, which guided the Cougars to another trip to the World Series.
“The thing this senior class did for us is it vindicated a lot of things,” Stawski said. “It vindicated why I got into this career. …The mark they are going to leave on this team is going to be immeasurable.”
Texas Lutheran will play Texas-Tyler in the first game of the best-of-three national championship series on Tuesday at 11 a.m. CT.
“It’s an all-Texas final,” Burnett said. “We talked about it on the plane trip over, and I could hear the guys talking about it. I think it’s a pretty neat thing, and I think it speaks volumes to the level of baseball being played in Texas.”
You can find Erik Buchinger on : @ImErikBuchinger