EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. - For the second consecutive season and 10th time in school history, Webster University will be bringing the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament trophy home to Webster Groves as the Gorloks took down Spalding 10-5 here Sunday afternoon in the championship game of the 2019 SLIAC Tournament at Roy E. Lee Field on the campus of the University of Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
Webster, who entered Sunday's SLIAC Tournament Championship game as the only undefeated team in the double elimination tournament, made sure they didn't need to play the if necessary game as its offense recorded 13 hits and used a five run sixth inning to pick up its second win of the tournament against Spalding, who shared the regular season SLIAC title with the Gorloks, but were the No. 1 seed in the tournament after sweeping both games from Webster during the regular season in Louisville, Ky., on March 20. It was the first time the SLIAC Tournament didn't need an if necessary game (Game 7) for the championship since 2014 when Webster defeated Greenville, 12-4 in Game 6 of the tournament to earn the its fifth straight tournament title.
The SLIAC Tournament Championship is the 10th all-time for the Gorloks in league history and its second straight title as Webster took home the tournament championship last season. In addition, Webster, who earned a share of its 13th consecutive SLIAC regular season title with Spalding this season, becomes the first league school to repeat as SLIAC Tournament champion since Webster won its fifth of five straight tournament titles in 2014.
With Sunday's championship game win, Webster, who improves to 32-10 on the season, earns the automatic qualifier berth into the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament from the SLIAC and will now compete in the NCAA D-III Regional Tournament next weekend at a site to be announced Monday. The selections for the 2018 Division III Baseball Tournament will be announced by the NCAA on its Division III Baseball selection show on www.NCAA.com on Monday morning at 11 a.m. CT.
In Sunday's championship game, Webster jumped in front 2-0 in the top of the first inning thanks to an RBI triple by sophomore third baseman Ben Swords (Freeport, Ill./Freeport) and an RBI groundout by junior leftfielder A.J. Smith (DuQuoin, Ill./DuQuoin) off of Spalding ace hurler Zach Jones. Swords' triple, which was his first of the season, brought home senior rightfielder Nate Tholl (Tinley Park, Ill./John A. Logan CC), who was hit by a pitch and then stole second before Swords' hit.
The Gorloks' lead grew to 3-0 in the third inning thanks to a double by Smith, a walk to junior All-American first baseman Kyler Kent (Pottsboro, Texas/Pottsboro), a wild pitch by Jones and a bunt single by sophomore shortstop Matt Staker (El Cajon, Calif./Saint Augustine) that allowed Smith to score from third. Smith was one of four Gorloks named to the All-Tournament Team as he went 3-for-4 with 4 RBI and two runs scored in Sunday's title game.
In the fourth, Webster added its fourth run of the game on an RBI single by Kent through the right side that plated Swords to give the Gorloks a 4-0 lead. Swords, who was also named to the All-Tournament Team, walked with two outs in the inning and finished the game with 2-for-3 with four runs scored and also added his 14th stolen base of the season.
The Golden Eagles, who earned its spot in Sunday's title game with a 9-0 win on Saturday against Greenville in the an elmination round contest, would finally find the scoreboard in the bottom of fifth against Webster junior starter Dakota Borman (Freeport, Ill./Highland CC). In the fifth, Zane Baker reached on a two-out single to right and then Garrett Wilson followed with another single to right to put runners on first and third. Wilson would then steal second and Evan Trentman then drilled a Borman pitch to left center for a 2-run single to cut WU's lead to 5-2. It looked like Borman would then get out of the inning, but Eric Meyer, who was named this year's SLIAC Player of the Year, reached on a fielding error by Swords at third that put two runners on base. Swords' error chased Borman from the game and brought senior reliever Adrian Santiago out of the bullpen for the Gorloks, who would strike out Quenton Brownlee to end the inning.
Webster would give themselves some cushion in the top of the sixth as they sent 10 hitters to the plate and scored five runs on two hits and two Spalding errors to push out to a 9-2 lead. The big hit in the inning was a 2-run double to left center by Smith off of Spalding reliever Lane Staples, who came into the game in the fourth for Jones after he isseed back-to-back walks to Swords and Smith.
The Gorloks added an additional insurance run in the top of the seventh as Swords doubled with two outs and Smith followed with an RBI single up the middle, but he was thrown at second trying to turn the hit into a double.
With the score 10-2, Santiago would pitch a scoreless sixth and seventh, before running into trouble in the eighth as he hit three batters, walked a batter, allowed a single to Mitchell Langley and uncorked two wild pitches, including one that led to a run, as the Golden Eagles scored three runs to pull within 10-5. The third batter Santiago hit brought junior Matt Mulhearn (Chicago Heights, Ill./Marian Catholic) into the game for a relief appearance. Mulhearn, who was the Gorloks' winning pitcher in Friday's tournament opener against Greenville, would end the eighth by getting Wilson to fly out to left.
Mulhearn, who was also named to the All-Tournament Team, would pitch a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the championship game win and set off a celebration on the field by the Gorloks.
Santiago (7-2) earned the win in relief of Borman as he tossed three innings and allowed two hits and three runs, while walking one, hitting three and striking out five. Borman fell just a third-of-an-inning short of earning the win as he pitched 4.2 innings and allowed five hits and two runs, while walking one and striking out one.
Jones (7-1) took the loss on the mound for the Golden Eagles as he pitched 3.2 innings and allowed six hits and four runs, while walking three and striking out four.
Along with Smith's three hits and Swords' two hits and four runs scored, Staker, Kent and Hopp each also had two hit in the win for the Gorloks.
Spalding, who finished with seven hits, was paced by two hits apiece by Wilson and Brownlee, who was one of three Spalding players named to the All-Tournament Team.
Sunday's game featured a combined eight walks, six hit batsmen, 20 hits, 15 runs and a a combined 17 runners left on base as Webster stranded nine and Spalding left eight on base.
For its three games in the SLIAC Tournament, Webster hit .339 as they scored 29 runs, had 37 hits and were 11-for-13 on stolen bases, while its pitching staff compiled a 2.33 ERA as they allowed just seven runs in 27 innings and recorded 19 strikeouts and walked just seven.
In addition to Smith, Swords and Mulhearn, Webster sophomore pitcher Sean Beaver (San Diego, Calif./Scripps Ranch), who pitched a complete game seven hit gem in Friday's winner's bracket match-up win against Spalding, was named the SLIAC Tournament MVP.
Other members of the SLIAC All-Tournament Team included Spalding's Trentman, Spalding's Hayden Davenport, Greenville's Sam Alender, Greenville's Klaiton Wollf and Westminster's Zach Eisenreich.