CHILLICOTHE, Ohio – Senior Garrett Crum broke a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning with a sacrifice fly, and then 16th-ranked Denison University answered back with a three-run ninth to live to fight another day with a 5-3 win in the championship round of the 2019 North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament, which is being held at V.A. Memorial Stadium.
"Overall, it was a really well-played game," said head coach Tim Pettorini. "Both teams really put it out there and Denison got the better of it at the end. We had a sacrifice fly at the end, and they got a hit. It's just unfortunate we came up a little short."
With the win, Denison (37-7) and 15th-ranked College of Wooster (26-11) will play in the winner-takes-all game at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
Freshman Tyler Chumita – one of the game's defensive standouts – ripped a leadoff double to right center to start the eighth inning. Then, junior Nick Strausbaugh laid down a well-placed sacrifice bunt-turned single. Strausbaugh's bunt hugged the line, and while Denison first baseman Will Krushena fielded the ball cleanly, the Big Red standout had to throw over Strausbaugh, and the extra arc on the throw enabled the Scots' outfielder to beat it out for a single.
Three batters later, Crum lifted a 2-2 pitch out to right field, and that was deep enough to plate freshman pinch runner Ben Hines and break the 2-2 tie.
Brad Baldinger's ninth-inning sacrifice bunt proved to be the big break Denison needed. Sophomore pitcher Andrew Hill, who himself stepped up with a big start for Wooster, fielded the ball, but his wide throw caused an untimely collision between the Big Red's catcher and junior second baseman Harry Witwer-Dukes at first base. That enabled Krushena to score the tying run, while pinch runner Steven Verstandig touched home on Vince Walker's go-ahead base knock.
Wooster, which didn't take a lead until Crum's sacrifice fly, tied a well-played game on both sides up twice. First, senior Jacob Stuursma led off the bottom of the fourth with his second round-tripper of the tournament, which tied the game at one. An inning later, senior Chandler Dippman scored on a wild pitch to knot the game back up at two. Prior to scoring, Dippman started the inning with a two-bagger and advanced to third on a fly out logged by junior Dan Gail.
Both teams had a series of standout defensive plays in the game. For Wooster, that started at the game's onset when Hill snared a liner back to the mound for the first out of the game. An inning later, Chumita flashed the leather at second base with a sliding stop on Brian McAuliffe's grounder in the hole, and the Scots' rookie robbed Baldinger of a hit to end the forth with a backhanded grab on a liner up the middle.
Junior Nick Strausbaugh's cannon of an arm led to a double play in the third inning. Denison, which plated the game's first run on Grady Paine's double down the right field line, was looking for more, until Strausbaugh's gunned down Max Lahn for the inning-ending double play.
Other key defensive plays included Crum snagging a hard-hit liner off McAuliffe's bat to end the sixth and Gail throwing out Walker trying to steal second in the seventh.
"Our guys were ready to play and excited defensively," added Pettorini. "They laid it all out there on the line and made diving plays. That part was really good."
Denison was just as impressive defensively, with McAuliffe leading the efforts. The Big Red third baseman took a hit away from freshman Ben Gbur in the third, and Lahn tracked down a ball up the middle to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
Hill (3-2) worked into the ninth inning, and through six, was averaging less than 12 pitches per frame. The right-hander was charged with five runs (three earned) on eight hits while striking out seven.
"Andrew pitched a tremendous game and did a yeoman's work," said Pettorini.
Freshmen Kenny Lippman and Henry Haack (3-0) combined to hold Wooster to five hits on the afternoon to pair with five strikeouts.
Cam Farren powered Denison's offense with a co-game-high two hits, one of which left the park.