June 2, 2010
Dragons' momentum halted by Wesleyan
Cortland falls in championship baseball game, 17-5
GRAND CHUTE, Wisconsin — For the second time in school history, the SUNY Cortland baseball team has finished second at the NCAA Division III World Series.
Illinois Wesleyan spoiled what started out to be a very promising day for the Red Dragons, coming up with a convincing 17-5 victory in the championship game at Fox Cities Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
Cortland (40-10-1) began the day avenging an earlier World Series loss to Oregon’s Linfield College to advance into the title game in this double-elimination tournament. The Red Dragons prevailed 12-9 as senior catcher Andersen Gardner slugged a two-run homer, tripled and drove in four runs against a Linfield team coached by former New York Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius.
So when senior third baseman Steve Nickel hit a two-run homer in the top of the first inning against Illinois Wesleyan, coming after Gardner reached on a two-out error by the Titans, momentum seemed to be firmly on Cortland’s side.
But it was Illinois Wesleyan’s turn to get some revenge, having suffered its lone World Series loss to the Red Dragons the previous day. Behind starting pitcher Jason Pankau and two home runs off the 5-for-5 bat of Jeff Grodecki — who would be named the Most Outstanding Player of the World Series — the Titans took over. The featured attraction was a nine-run scoring spree in the fifth inning.
“I thought we were ready to go,” said Gardner of Cortland’s championship chances after beating Linfield. “We just kind of ran into a wall.”
“It was a mixed emotion day. We came out and had a competitive game with a very good Linfield College team,” said Cortland coach Joe Brown. “We then obviously ran into a buzzsaw in Illinois Wesleyan, who played super baseball and hit the ball all over the park. We didn’t have an answer, unfortunately. At the same time, it certainly doesn’t diminish what these young men and this team accomplished.”
The Red Dragons reached 40 wins for the fifth time in school history, falling three shy of the school best 43-9-1 record posted by the 2005 Cortland squad that also placed second at the World Series.
Gardner, Nickel, sophomore second baseman Matt June and senior center-fielder Khyle Dimino were named to the all-tournament team.
Fairport’s Gardner batted .500, going 10-for-20 with four home runs, a triple, a double and drawing five walks. He drove in 14 runs over the six Cortland contests, and his third inning triple against Linfield tied the school record of 21 career three-baggers set by Craig Kerner from 1998-2000.
Nickel hit .461 (12-for-26) with a pair of home runs, two triples and a dozen RBIs. June hit .444 with two doubles and a triple, while Dimino hit .423 and hit for the cycle in a victory over No. 1 nationally-ranked Johns Hopkins this past Sunday in a crucial elimination contest won by the Dragons.
Dimino also set the single-season stolen base record with his second inning swipe of second against Linfield, giving him 36 for the spring. That broke the old record set by Kerner in 1999.
Cortland left-fielder Jason Simone had hits in both games Tuesday and will take a 24-game hitting streak into the 2011 season — two shy of the school record also held by Kerner.
Coach Brown hoped those Red Dragons coming back learned from this post-season appearance, that including winning the New York State Regional in unbeaten fashion before going 4-2 in the World Series.
“I told all the returners to watch (the Illinois Wesleyan celebration), that this is an expectation we have here ,” said Coach Brown. “It’s not some far-fetched imagination. It’s a realistic objective and goal. We’ve been extremely fortunate at Cortland to be at the World Series 10 times, and when these young men get home they’ll start working on next year.”
Illinois Wesleyan 17, Cortland 5: After scoring a combined 66 runs over its first five Series games, Cortland was held to five runs on nine hits by Illinois Wesleyan starter Pankau and two relievers.
Pankau, who won two games at the Series, allowed just six hits and three runs, one earned, over 7-1/3 innings. He struck out nine and walked two.
After giving up Nickel’s two-run homer to left, Pankau (11-2) was pretty much in control.
“I got on him in the first inning, it felt good, but he settled in and starting throwing up zeroes until later in the game and we couldn’t find it after that,” said Nickel. “He mixes up his pitches pretty well. He’s got some life to his fastball, and he’s got a pretty good changeup.”
Grodecki hit a solo homer with two outs in the fourth, and his solo shot in the fourth started a four-run rally that put the Titans up 8-2. He also singled twice during Illinois Wesleyan’s nine-run fifth inning that put the game out of reach.
Mark McDermott went 4-for-4 with a walk, RBI and three runs scored and Kraig Ladd was 2-for-5 with three RBI and three runs scored for the champions.
Cortland scored once in the seventh when senior John Zilnicki singled and scored on a triple by senior Kevin Jackson. The Red Dragons added two in the ninth on an Alex Coffey RBI double and an RBI single by senior Damon Arnold.
Jackson finished 2-for-4 as Cortland’s lone player with multiple hits. Illinois Wesleyan finished with 18 hits off six different Red Dragon pitchers, starter Mike Assmann getting the loss.
Illinois Wesleyan won the national title in its second World Series appearance. The Titans were 14-17 at one point during the season before eventually winning their conference title and NCAA regional crown to earn a World Series berth. They went 4-1 at the Series and finished the year with a 31-21 record.
Cortland 12, Linfield 9: Cortland led 8-1 after four innings and held off a Linfield rally to defeat the Wildcats and avenge a 25-11 loss from the second day of the World Series.
Gardner tripled home a run in the third inning and hit a two-run homer as part of a six-run fourth inning. June was 4-for-4 with a walk, hitting a two-run double in the fourth and scoring three times.
Khyle Dimino went 4-for-5, stole two bases and scored three times for the Red Dragons. Senior shortstop Shawn Bailey was 2-for-4 with a walk and three RBIs.
Tyson Smith had three hits and drove in two runs for Linfield (37-13), while Cole Bixenman homered and had three RBIs.
Junior Travis Ratliff started for Cortland and pitched into the ninth inning for his ninth win in 10 decisions on the season. He allowed 12 hits and nine runs, struck out seven and walked five.
Linfield made things interesting with three runs in the ninth. The big hit was a two-run Smith double off reliever Brendan Hourihan. Hourihan, however, induced two groundouts to end the game.
AFTER BEATING LINFIELD, however, Cortland could not repeat that success against Illinois Wesleyan.
“It was a great experience. It was a great feeling to come in that first day (of practice), coming in out of the off-season, and this is what we fight for, like every team in the country,” said Nickel. “There’s no better feeling than to get here. It’s a great accomplishment. We’ve been great all year —
we just didn’t have it on the last game.”
Gardner, who caught the ceremonial first pitch before the Linfield game from major league pitcher Jarrod Washburn — who led Wisconsin-Oshkosh to a Division III World Series in 1994 — has no regrets about his Cortland experience.
“It’s been life-changing,” said Gardner, who had a brother pitch for Ithaca College.
“I had a couple of D-1 offers, and I’m glad I turned them down because my career here has just been unbelievable,” he added. “To go to three World Series out of four, some people don’t even get to one in four years. It’s been one heck of a ride. It’s just sad it didn’t happen the way we wanted it to, but national runner-up is still pretty good out of however many colleges there are in D-3.”
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