MONMOUTH, Ill. – The greater the climb, the greater the reward.
Cornell's baseball team is Midwest Conference Tournament champions and NCAA-bound for the first time in school history. It all happened after the Rams won four consecutive elimination games, including three on Saturday at Monmouth's Glasgow Field.
Coach Seth Wing's Rams (26-17) defied the odds after dropping a 2-0 battle with Chicago Friday morning. Cornell eliminated host Monmouth later that opening day, 5-1, and then rode Saturday's wave with a 6-5 morning victory over Chicago, followed by lopsided wins in the championship series against Ripon, 21-13 and 8-2.
Senior left-hander Caleb Wichman (SR/Crescent, Iowa) pitched all nine innings of the decisive title contest. Cornell's difficult four-game run was made complete when center fielder Adrian Alvarez (SO/Upland, Calif.) hauled in a Ripon fly ball for the final out, setting off a championship celebration.
Cornell claimed the MWC's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament, which begins with regional play May 17-19. The 58-team field will be announced on NCAA.com at 11 a.m. Monday.
Wichman, who earlier in the day became Cornell's all-time leader for hits in a season, also proved his worth on the mound when the Rams needed him most in the winner-take-all Game 7 against Ripon (24-18). Wichman (1-1) allowed just two runs and stranded 13 Red Hawks on base in delivering his first career complete game.
Zach Stone (SO/Coralville, Iowa) went 3-for-3 with three runs, three extra-base hits and three RBIs. The sophomore outfielder jacked a three-run homer to left in the bottom of the third and the Rams were well on their way. Cale Jamesson (JR/Keystone, Iowa) blasted a two-run homer in the fourth as Cornell's lead ballooned to 8-0.
Lucas Larson (SR/Palo, Iowa) contributed two RBIs. Jamesson added a double. Wichman tripled, raising his record-setting hits total to 66. Wichman broke the season mark of 63, set by Ian Harden in 2003.
The Rams and Red Hawks lit up the scoreboard in the day's first head-to-head matchup, which had Ripon with a 7-3 lead through five innings.
Cornell's bats went bonkers in the top of the sixth, scoring 11 runs on 10 hits while sending 16 guys to the plate. Larson and Jamesson each had two hits in the frame, highlighted by Larson's two-run homer.
The Rams were not done scoring, adding five runs in the seventh and two more in the eighth. Larson finished with four hits and five RBIs. Jamesson and Alex Schwartz (JR/Minnetonka, Minn.) both drove in four runs. Matt Stone (SR/Bettendorf, Iowa) had four hits, including two doubles.
Cornell outhit the Red Hawks, 20-11. Jack Heneghan (SO/Chicago, Ill.) (1-0) worked 1.1 innings in relief to notch the win.
The day started with a tight win over Chicago, which saw Adam Tvedt (JR/Cedar Rapids, Iowa) fire three scoreless innings to nail down his fifth save of the year. Winning pitcher Zachary Greenwald (SR/Dubuque, Iowa) (4-1) worked three innings in middle relief.
Trailing 5-3, Cornell rallied and went ahead to stay in a three-run sixth inning. Jamesson, who went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, doubled home two runs in the frame. Keenan Bryant (JR/Fort Pierce, Fla.) singled in what proved to be the game-winner with two outs.