Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago
APPLETON, Wisconsin -- The Concordia University Chicago Cougars, coming off a win over Oswego State on Saturday, were preparing for a potentially full day of baseball on Sunday, but it was not to be. First, some early morning rain pushed back the start an hour. Once the game started, the Cougars got off to a fast start, but a sequence of strange events in the third inning put CUC behind the eight ball, never to recover, and the Cougars were eliminated from the Division III Championship Finals with a 10-3 loss to Roanoke (Va.) College.
For the third straight day, the Cougars scored in their initial at-bat. Joe Silva singled for the Cougars' first hit, and Mitch Wilson and Kevin Coppin drew walks off the left-handed starter Forrest Wagner to load the bases. That brought Justin Rodriguez to the plate, and he hit the first pitch back up the middle past Wagner for a two-single and the early lead.
Keaton Conner pitched a strong first inning, retiring the first two batters on strikeouts and then getting a grounder to second. However, the Maroons touched him for a run in the second on a Dean Hermanson single, a wild pitch and a two-out single by Drew Mikula.
The Cougars went out quickly in their next at-bat, and then came a nightmare bottom of the third. Two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Will Decker. On a 1-2 pitch, the next pitch was called a check swing while Decker argued that he was hit. The pitch was eventually ruled a check swing, but the count on the board stayed 1-2. Conner's next two pitches were called balls, and the crew chief came in to rule the second pitch as ball four, forcing in the tying run and setting off another discussion on the field. When play resumed, Dean Hermanson hit a line drive to left which was misplayed and went for a three-run double, bringing an end to Conner's day. Sam Watson greeted Petar Arbov with a run-scoring single, but Arbov did well in settling things down. The Maroons scored one more run on a double play ball, taking a 7-2 lead to the fourth.
"One bad inning, and we were unable to recover," said CUC head coach Mike Stawski in the post-game press conference. Usually, we feel we will come back," referring to the 50 times this year that CUC answered immediately after an opponent's score. "But give Roanoke credit for not letting us getting any momentum back. Instead, it felt like a rock rolling downhill, and we couldn't stop it."
Despite the long half-inning, Wagner stayed sharp over the next couple of innings, yielding only a single to Aaron Wicker in the fifth. The Cougars did manage a run in the sixth when Coppin walked with two out and moved to second on an errant pickoff throw. Rodriguez then recorded his third RBI of the day with a line single to left, bringing Coppin home.
This time, it was Roanoke turning the tables on CUC with a quick response. With two outs and a man on second, Collier Donald doubled to the leftfield corner. Decker then hit a first-pitch rocket down the right-field line and over the fence to boost the Maroons' lead to 10-3.
The Cougars found themselves with little time to get back into the game. Their best chance came in the seventh when they loaded the bases, but a pop up in the infield ended that opportunity. They stranded two more in the eighth and one in the ninth when Spohr's grounder to short put an end to the Cougars' landmark season.
Reflecting on the Cougars' 34-13 season, Stawski praised his seniors for setting the bar high for future teams. When asked about CUC's first Championship Finals appearance, Stawski said, "We didn't realize until we got here what this was all about. But now that we have, we would be devastated if we didn't make it back here. We know now what it takes to get here and the work it takes, and that will be with us forever, it will be our focus as we start getting ready for 2018."