Cougars Drop Regional Opener In 10 Innings
Courtesy of Concordia University Chicago
WHITEWATER, Wis. -- One of sports' oldest adages states that baseball is a game of inches. That statement was borne out again today in the Concordia Cougars' heartbreaking 2-1 loss in 10 innings to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the first game of the NCAA III Midwest Regional.
Outstanding pitching performances by Concordia's Ryan Thorsen (Lake Villa, IL/Grant) and Tim Milroy (Batavia, IL/Marmion Academy) put the Cougars in a position to steal the first game from the host Warhawks despite a superb performance from their senior hurler Eric Schmitz. In the end, Schmitz earned the result with a complete-game five-hit effort, allowing Concordia just a single seventh-inning tally.
The Cougars got their leadoff man on base in each of the first two innings but were unable to dent the scoreboard. With two out in the third, Robert Weis (Oak Creek, WI/H.S.) collected the first extra-base hit of the game, a double to the rightfield corner. But Schmitz got Anthony Even (Franklin Park, IL/West Leyden) to fly to the warning track in left to keep the game scoreless.
The Warhawks broke through in the fourth. Jared Fon ripped a double down the leftfield line with one out for the home team's first hit. Thorsen then uncorked a wild pitch, sending Fon to third. That would prove costly as Marty Herum hit Thorsen's next pitch to shortstop. Fon came across the plate as Weis' only play was at first base for the out.
In the sixth, a leadoff walk to number nine batter David Cladis and a base hit by Matthew Beyer put runners on the corners. Thorsen rose to the occasion and kept the Warhawks off the board, first fielding a bunt by Dylan Friend and shoveling the ball to Nick Skala (Long Grove, IL/St. Viator) in time for the tag at the plate. He then coaxed Fon to ground to first baseman Rob Fioravanti (Evergreen Park, IL/H.S.) who started a 3-6-1 inning-ending double play.
Given a shot of adrenalin with the double play, the Cougars went to work and tied the game in the seventh. Skala led off and hit a one-hopper to the wall in left for a leadoff double. Shawn Miller (Pleasant Prairie, WI/Tremper) fouled off three two-strike pitches and did his job advancing the runner with a ground ball to the first baseman. Dan Eichholzer (Elwood, IL/Joliet Township) followed with a grounder to short. Steve Bartlein looked at home plate, but Skala's break from third was enough that Bartlein threw to first instead for the out while Skala scored.
The Warhawks were given an opportunity in their half of the seventh to regain the lead as Even's throwing error put a runner on second with just one out. Concordia head coach Adam Smith elected to pull Thorsen with the southpaw's pitch count at 88. Smith opted for the Cougars #88, Milroy who last pitched 4 1/3 innings of stellar relief in the Cougars' NAC Championship battle against Aurora. Milroy kept the runner at second, getting a pop up to Even and a dribbler in front of the plate fielded by Skala.
In the ninth, Weis led off with his second hit of the game, a chopper between third and short. Then came perhaps the key play of the game. Even squared to bunt on the first pitch, taking it for a ball. With the third baseman moving up, Even showed bunt again but instead pulled up and slashed at the 1-0 pitch. He hit a laser to third, but Fon's quick reaction saved the day for the Warhawks. He fielded the smash and started a 5-4-3 double play, the Warhawks' third of the day. Skala kept the inning alive with a walk, but Miller's line drive went directly to the leftfielder for the third out.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would do the same thing," said Smith in referring to Even's at-bat. "We saw the opportunity to put the play on and we executed it perfectly. Somehow, the third baseman made the grab and was able to start the double play. You have to give him credit."
Milroy took the mound in the ninth having retired five of the first six hitters he faced. After a fly to left by Fon, Marty Herum hit a liner to left-center that perfectly bisected Miller and Brenden Schulz (Kenosha, WI/Bradford) for a double. Milroy walked Ryan Leavitt intentionally to face the six and seven hitters. Mike Mierow's liner to right-center appeared as if it might go for a game-winning hit, but Miller raced a long way from centerfield to make the catch. Milroy then caught Bartlein looking at a third strike to send the game into extra innings.
Concordia went down in order in the tenth, setting up Whitewater's heroics in the bottom of the frame. Brandon Egnarski led off with a soft single to left and was replaced by pinch-runner J.T. Schneider. On the first pitch to Cladis, Skala threw to first base on a pickoff attempt. The throw appeared to have the runner easily, but Fioravanti missed with the tag. Schneider then broke for second on Milroy's next pitch and, as Weis moved to cover second base, Cladis hit the ball through the vacated spot at shortstop to put runners on second and first with no out. Beyer was next, and he hit an 0-1 pitch to leftfield. The throw by Schulz was not in time as Schneider crossed the plate and put the Warhawks into the winners' bracket of the regional.
"It's a very tough loss, and I feel especially bad for our two pitchers," said Smith. "Our pitching was great and we hit some balls on the nose, but it just didn't happen for us today. I will say that, for a lot of our guys who were playing in their first regional game, they battled. They weren't afraid. Our effort was great, and we just have to make some adjustments on little things and come back tomorrow ready to win a ball game."
The Cougars (33-13) will now look to stay alive in the regional as they play St. Norbert College in an elimination game on Thursday morning at 10 a.m.