May 13, 2017 – When talking about the Concordia-Chicago baseball team's run of success over the last several years, one of the common mantras is that "each team has its own separate identity." While there is some truth to that, a hallmark of both the 2016 and 2017 teams is the ability to score runs immediately after the opposition has scored. The Cougars' ability to do that in back-to-back games against Concordia University Wisconsin, 5-4 Friday night and 8-6 this afternoon, has resulted in a fifth consecutive Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference tournament title, a berth to a sixth consecutive NCAA III Regional and an 18-0 streak spanning the last five conference tournaments at Kapco Park in Mequon, WI.
The circumstances going into today's game were a bit strange. Following their loss to the Cougars last night, the Falcons needed to beat the Milwaukee School of Engineering to return to the championship round. They did, but not before the two teams battled for 15 innings in a 4 ½-hour marathon. While CUW had only 45 minutes after their 7-5 win to prepare for the Cougars, CUC found themselves waiting around Kapco Park nearly three hours before the game finally began at 3:00.
The Falcons batted first in this game and had a chance to strike the initial blow when Matt Luft singled with one out, and Matt Schubert was hit by a pitch. However, Mike Formella, coming back after throwing 27 pitches in an inning of relief last night, fanned Bryan Thomas and got Kyle Hilliard on a liner to second base.
The Cougars looked to grab the early momentum, and they succeeded in pushing a run across in the first. Bryan VanDuser worked a walk on a full-count pitch, and Joe Silva's grounder to first moved VanDuser 90 feet. VanDuser then raced to third as the shortstop threw out Brent Spohr for the second out, and he scored as Mitch Wilson dropped a base hit in front of the leftfielder.
This time, the Falcons answered with two runs in the second. A double and single scored the first, and an errant pickoff throw and wild pitch contributed to the go-ahead run scoring. The Falcons added two in the third on solo homers by Thomas and Nathan Thysssen.
Perhaps it was a flashback from last night, but the Cougars overcame another 4-1 deficit rather quickly. Silva and Spohr were hit by pitches to begin the uprising. Wilson then roped one over the rightfielder's head that one-hopped the fence for a double, Silva scoring. Kevin Coppin then singled to the hole between first and second, and when the second baseman's throw was off-target, both runners scored to tie the game. One out later, Doug Matthews gave CUC the lead as he hit a deep drive to right-center that fell for a triple. Matthews then scored the fifth run of the inning with two out as Brendan Klein's grounder perfectly bisected the middle infielders for a base hit and a 6-4 edge.
Brian Musielak came in to start the fourth and quickly retired the side in order. The Falcons threatened in the fifth as they put their first two men on base. However, Musiealk got the next two hitters to ground out, the second one scoring a run. A fly to left ended the threat as Musielak contained the damage to one run, and the Cougars retained the lead at 6-5.
In the bottom of the inning, the Cougars wasted no time in expanding the lead back to three runs. Wilson and Coppin went back-to-back with homers to right, and the Cougars led 8-5 entering the sixth.
After the homers, Musielak took over. The right-hander retired the side in order in both the sixth and seventh. He retired nine straight batters until Isaac Tewes doubled with two out in the eighth, but Musielak got the next batter to pop up to Coppin in foul territory to end the threat.
A little more drama lay in store as the Falcons came to bat in the ninth, their 24th inning of the day. After Musielak retired pinch-hitter Luke Wirtz on a grounder to third, it was back to the top of CUW's order where Dan Raineri doubled to the gap in left-center. Luft then laced a sharp single to center to score Raineri and bring the tying run to the plate. But Schubert hit the first pitch on a fly to center which was caught for the second two. Thomas was next, looking for his second homer of the game, but he too hit the first pitch right to Spohr at first base. Spohr made two small steps to touch the tag, and CUC had booked its passage to the next round.
"We preach toughness in our program, and that's what we showed these last two nights, trailing 4-1 on the road and coming back to win it both times," said CUC head coach Mike Stawski. Of winning five straight tournaments, Stawski said, "They're all special. We tell our players that winning doesn't happen every day, and we never want our players to take it for granted."
The Cougars (29-11) will now await word on their assignment to one of the eight Division III regionals. They will find out either Sunday night or Monday morning.