Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago
DULUTH, Minn. -- One game, winner take all. That was the situation late Sunday afternoon after the Concordia-Chicago Cougars toppled the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Titans 7-1 in the first game of the championship round. In the end, the CUC seniors came to the forefront once again and put the Cougars over the brink with a 3-2 win over UWO. The Cougars will now return to Appleton, WI later this week as winners of the Midwest Region and one of eight teams to compete in the Division III World Series.
Starting pitchers for this final game were CUC's "all-purpose" senior right-hander Mike Formella and UWO's lefty Lucas Gregory. The Cougars, batting as the visiting team once again, drew first blood in the second inning. With one out, Justin Rodriguez singled up the middle for CUC's first hit. Rodriguez stole second and was there with two out when Connor Brandon lined a base hit to left. The left fielder tracked the ball down inside the line and threw to second, catching Brandon trying to stretch the hit into a double. However, Rodriguez had crossed the plate first, and the Cougars led 1-0.
Both pitchers kept dealing zeroes, and the score remained 1-0 until the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Mercado bobbled a ground ball to give the Titans only their fourth base runner of the game. The next batter hit a grounder which Mercado knocked down. He threw to second, but the throw got away into right field, allowing the runner to come all the way around. The batter made third on the play, but Formella made sure that he didn't go anywhere, retiring the next two batters on a grounder to short and a grounder to second, the latter on which Formella covered the bag and made the out himself.
In the seventh, Gregory was sailing along, getting Joe Silva on a fly to left for his 13th consecutive batter retired. Senior Mitch Wilson was next, and he took ball one before cracking a towering drive to right. The right fielder went back until he ran out of room, and Wilson circled the bases for just his second homer of the year and a 2-1 lead. But the Cougars weren't done yet. One out later, Rodriguez singled to drive Gregory from the game. The Titans called for Nick McLees, Thursday night's starter, but Jacob Frank welcomed him to the game by hitting his first pitch to the left-field corner. The ball got by the outfielder, and Frank had a triple while the Cougars had a crucial insurance run at 3-1.
The Titans made a final charge in the eighth. An error and an infield hit started things off for UWO with the top of the order coming up. Jack Paulson put down a sacrifice to advance the runners. Zack Radde then grounded to second base for the second out of the inning as a run scored. Taylor Grimm, the Titans' leading RBI man, then faced Formella with the tying run on third. Fittingly, the count went full before Formella got the catcher swinging for strike three.
The ninth inning drama was over quickly. Andy Brahier hit the first pitch on a line directly to Wilson at second base. Alex Koch fell behind 1-2 before striking out, Kevin Coppin throwing to Frank at first. Formella's next pitch, number 108 of the game, was grounded to Mercado at short. A clean pick-up and pinpoint throw to Frank at first put this one in the books as the CUC dugout emptied and dog-piled out at the mound.
The regional championship trophy was presented to the Cougars after the game, along with individual plaques. The All-Midwest Regional team was announced too. Formella won the Most Outstanding Player award for the second straight year, and he was joined on the all-regional team by Brandon, Mercado and Wilson.
The complete field for this year's World Series will be known by Monday.