Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago
APPLETON, Wisconsin -- The Concordia University Chicago Cougars took the field at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton for a historic game, CUC's first-ever NCAA Division III Championship Finals contest.
The Cougars were coming off a 4-0 sweep at the Midwest Regional last weekend in which they trampled over their opponents by a margin of 46-8. However, the bats were silenced today by Bryce Schnatterly and two relief pitchers as Washington & Jefferson College used a three-run third inning to take control of the game and defeat CUC by a 4-2 score.
Brian Musielak, fresh off six scoreless innings against UW-La Crosse last Sunday, got the start and looked sharp. He retired the first two batters before an infield single and a blooper to center gave the Presidents an early opportunity. However, Musielak came back to retire the next batter on a pop up in foul territory to catcher Kevin Coppin.
The Cougars came up for their initial at-bat, and leadoff man Bryan VanDuser wasted no time. He drove the first pitch over the high wall in left-center for a homer and the quick lead. CUC threatened again the second as Doug Matthews was hit by a pitch, and Kevin Garvey followed with a single. However, W & J pitcher Bryce Schnatterly wriggled out of the jam by getting a ground ball to short for the third out.
The Presidents revved up their offense in the top of the third. Three singles, the third on a bunt, loaded the bases. Nick Vento flew to center, the tying run scoring as the other runners moved up a base. Nick Gatins then doubled to left-center to score a pair and give the Presidents their first lead of the day. Musielak was able to end any further damage with a fly ball and his fourth strikeout of the game.
Both teams managed a two-out run in the fifth inning, the Presidents' Mark Merlino singling home Derek Helbing for a 4-1 lead. But VanDuser's slow chopper in the infield scored Matthews, who had reached on a leadoff double.
Mike Formella entered the game to start the sixth and recorded a couple of strikeouts. He added two more in the seventh, working around a one-out triple to keep the Presidents off the board.
The Cougars saw opportunity in the eighth with the top of the order due up, and a walk to VanDuser was a promising beginning. He advanced to second on a ground ball, but Brent Spohr's liner was caught by the shortstop who made a quick turn and threw to second just in time to double off VanDuser.
Concordia-Chicago made one last push in the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Coppin laced a single to left. Matthews kept CUC hopes alive with a two-out single, putting the tying run on base. But W & J reliever Will Boswer fanned pinch-hitter Jacob Frank on a 3-2 pitch to end the Cougars' 14-game winning streak and send them into a Saturday elimination game.
Head coach Mike Stawski reflected in the post-game press conference, "This was a good game for the fans to watch, a clean game with no errors. We had some chances, and I thought Mike (Formella) certainly gave us some chances in the late innings. We just could not get our offense going, but I'm not at all displeased with our effort."
Asked about facing an elimination game on Saturday, which the Cougars have not faced this year after sweeping through the conference tournament and the Midwest Regional, Stawski remarked, "We'll be confident; there's no reason to not feel confident. We lost a good game to a good team today, but we feel we have our pitching set up for the remainder of the tournament and we'll just have to go out there and get it tomorrow. There's no pressure in an elimination game unless you put it there yourself."
The Cougars (33-12) will play at 10 a.m. Saturday against Oswego State University.