CHILLICOTHE, Ohio – The 15th-ranked College of Wooster baseball team mounted an eighth-inning rally, yet in the end, the Fighting Scots were unable to catch up to 16th-ranked Denison University, which captured its first North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament title with a 7-5 win in Saturday's winner-takes-all game at V.A. Memorial Stadium.
Wooster (26-12) now must wait and see if its season – and legendary head coach Tim Pettorini's final campaign – will continue. That'll entail Wooster seeing its name appear as one of the 16 Pool C (at-large) bids to the NCAA Div. III Championships when the 58-team field is announced at noon on Monday, May 13 on NCAA.com.
"We talk all the time about playing every pitch, and I thought our guys did," said Pettorini. "I give them a lot of credit for not giving in and battling all game. We had a chance. We put ourselves in position where maybe we could've got a hit. Give Danny (Brackman) credit. He got us out there at the end, but our guys battled hard."
Wooster's top four hitters were held to two hits – both by senior Jacob Stuursma – the first three times through the lineup, but that changed come the eighth inning. Senior Nick Strausbaugh's single up the middle marked the first of four straight base knocks for the Scots. Two batters later, junior Dan Harwood's RBI single pulled Wooster within 7-3, and senior Garrett Crum deposited a single into center, which plated Stuursma.
Freshman Ben Hines was inserted as a pinch runner with two outs and an 0-2 count on junior Dan Gail, and the rookie's presence was immediately felt. Hines swiped second on the first pitch, which rolled past Denison's Brad Baldinger giving Harwood enough time to score on the wild pitch. Alas, that's as close as the Scots came on the scoreboard.
In the first, Stuursma's speed and aggressiveness on the bases led to yet another run at the tournament, as Wooster opened with an early score. The Scots' shortstop legged out a triple to right center, then attempted a straight steal of home. That caught Denison starter John Troll off guard, and he balked while trying to throw out Stuursma at the plate.
Grady Paine emerged as the catalyst of Denison's offense in the winner-takes-all game. The senior sparked the Big Red with a first-inning single down the line, and later touched home on Will Krushena's two-run double down the left field line. An inning later, Paine upped the lead to 5-1 with a three-run power shot just out of reach of leaping right fielder Ben Gbur.
Wooster pulled closer in the top of the third. Freshman Tyler Chumita pulled a leadoff single through the right side of the infield and scored when Brian McAuliffe wasn't able to corral a fly ball off Harwood's bat.
Senior Wyatt Linde stepped up with his team in need of a lift. The left-hander struck out five in his 2 2/3 innings of work, and equally as important was Gail's play behind the dish. That's because Linde's oftentimes able to get the opposition to chase at his pitches, and that was the case on Saturday with three strikeouts being cleaned up by Gail either throwing to first or tagging out the batter near the batter's box.
Denison turned to its bag of tricks in the seventh with Cam Farren and Vince Walker on the corners. The Big Red looked to pull off the double steal, only sophomore Evan Faxon was ready for it. Unlike Troll in the first, the Scots southpaw stepped off the rubber before delivering a throw to home for what went down as an inning-ending 1-2-5-3 rundown.
Stuursma collected three of Wooster's 10 hits and finished a homer shy of the cycle. He earned a spot on the all-tournament team as did senior Chandler Dippman, Faxon, and Harwood.
Senior Brian Murray (3-3) took the loss after allowing five runs on five hits in 2 1/3 innings.
Farren, the tournament's MVP, and Paine combined to go 6-for-8 with four runs and four RBI in the championship game. Denison's entourage on the all-tournament team also included Krushena, McAuliffe, Paine, and Taylor Perrett.
Troll (8-0), making just his second start (18th appearance) of the year, allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits in five innings.
Allegheny College's Austin Bristol and Tommy Cannon and Wabash College's Andrew Jumonville rounded out the all-tournament team.
"Wyatt pitched really well and Evan was great at the end. Those guys did an outstanding job, and I couldn't be happier with the effort they gave."