Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago
DULUTH, Minn. -- Day three of the NCAA III Midwest Regional in Duluth, MN saw a meeting of the two 2-0 teams remaining. The winner of Saturday morning's Concordia-Chicago and Wisconsin-Oshkosh game would have a direct path to Sunday's championship round. Both teams came out swinging the bats, but this time it was late runs from the opponent rather than the Cougars that decided the contest, 9-7 in favor of the Titans.
Freshman Cole Carman got the starting nod for the Cougars and labored through the first inning. After he retired the lead-off man, the Titans smacked back-to-back doubles to open the scoring. UWO's batters worked Carman for a single and two walks, the latter walk forcing in the second run before a fly to center ended the top of the first.
The Cougars responded in their initial at-bat, aided by a potential double-play ball that was booted, putting runners on first and second instead. A grounder to first put both in scoring position, and Brady Roberts came through with the clutch two-out hit, sending the first pitch back up the middle to tie the game. First baseman Jacob Frank, starting in place of the injured Andrew Massey, then put CUC in front with a line drive to the gap in right-center. The ball got all the way to the wall as Roberts raced around third to make it a 3-2 Cougars' lead after one.
Both teams' bats continued to sizzle in the second. The Titans started the inning with four straight hits, but a base-running gaffe helped Carman and the Cougars to limit the damage to two runs. Concordia-Chicago trailed again, but this deficit lasted just two batters. Keegan Tyrell led off with a triple to center, and Mercado smacked a single between third and short to knot the game at 4-4.
Carman came back to work a 1-2-3 inning in the third, and the Cougars then got the lead back for their right-hander. Kevin Coppin was down 0-2 in the count but won the at-bat by hitting a chopper to short and beating it out. He moved to second on a passed ball and was there with two out when Mercado struck again, this time with a line single to right-center for the 5-4 lead.
The Cougars held the Titans off the board again in the fourth, working around a lead-off error. They could not get out of the fifth with the lead, however. Alex Koch led off with a single and scored one out later when Dylan Ott went opposite field and dumped a double inside the right-field line. Carman did not let UWO get any more runs in the inning, though. He struck out the next batter and then got the third out on a close call at first, Mercado's throw just beating the runner.
It remained a 5-5 game until the bottom of the sixth. Mercado and VanDuser led off with hits. The Titans' reliever bore down and retired CUC's three and four hitters, but Roberts was hit by a pitch to keep the inning alive. Frank came up with the bases loaded and hit a slow chopper to second. The fielders froze momentarily, and Frank won the race to the bag as Mercado scored the go-ahead run.
The pendulum swung again in the seventh to the Titans' side. Cody Caballero had worked a perfect sixth inning, but UWO started things off with a single. The next batter lifted one to right-center, but the CUC outfielders were playing deep, and the ball fell for a double. Ott was next, and he stung the Cougars again for a single to right to score one run. A second run scored on a sacrifice fly, and the Titans were in the lead again at 7-6.
This time, there was no quick response from the Cougars. Alex Larson, UWO's second reliever of the day, had given up the hit to Frank when he first entered the game but then proceeded to set down the next nine men he faced. After the Titans had scored two insurance runs in the top of the ninth, the Cougars tried to put up another last-ditch rally. Coppin singled to left, and Brandon drove one to the wall in right-center that went for a triple. Suddenly, it was a 9-7 game and the Cougars had the tying run at bat in Tyrell. This time, however, there was no miracle finish as Larson fanned Tyrell to put the Titans into Sunday's championship round.
Concordia-Chicago (35-13) can still make the championship round for a rematch with UWO, but first they must win tonight at 6:30 p.m. against the University of Dubuque. The winner of the Saturday night game would then have to knock off UWO twice on Sunday.