California Lutheran University needed to win twice on Tuesday (May 30) to win a national title, and the Kingsmen went 2-for-2.
California Lutheran defeated Washington and Jefferson College (Pa.) twice at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis., to win its first NCAA Division III baseball championship. After dropping the first game of the best-of-three championship series on Monday (May 29), California Lutheran won 12-4 and 7-3 to capture the title in its sixth trip to the finals.
"The guys were confident," California Lutheran coach Marty Slimak said. "They believed they could do it."
Slimak told his players before the series started they would have to win twice. That message didn't change after a 12-2 loss to Washington and Jefferson on Monday.
"They didn't crown the national champion (Monday). They crowned it today. They believed it. Great job," Slimak said.
In the final game, Austin Kay went 3-for-4, scored three runs and drove in two more to pace California Lutheran (40-11). Trey Saito was 2-for-4 and Max Weinstein and Sinjin Todd both went 2-for-5 for the Kingsmen.
California Lutheran's Scott Roberts went six innings, allowing two runs and five hits while striking out four and walking one to get the win. Miguel Salud worked the final three innings, allowing one run on four hits to pick up his third save of the tournament. Salud was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
California Lutheran jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the third when Gabe Gunter delivered a two-run double. Mark Merlino countered with a run-scoring double in the top of the fourth for Washington and Jefferson (42-13) to cut the lead to 2-1. The Kingsmen got a run-scoring single from Kay in the bottom half of the inning to push the lead back to 3-1.
The Presidents trimmed the lead to 3-2 in the fifth when Jake Gordon hit a booming homer to left to start the inning.
California Lutheran picked up an unearned run in the seventh and then sealed the title with three runs in the eighth. Cheynne Giles started the rally with a one-out single, Saito followed with a double, and Kay and Weinstein then delivered run-scoring singles for a 7-2 edge.
Salud gave up a walk, two hits and a run in the ninth before getting a popup to end it.
Ryan Sciullo and Gordon both went 2-for-4 for Washington and Jefferson. Riley Groves went 7.1 innings, allowing nine hits and six runs, and took the loss.
Slimak said his team came a long, long way from the start of the season. He said had anyone told him they would end up hoisting the national championship after the season, he wouldn't have believed him.
"I would have looked at you and said, 'You're nuts.' We had so many question marks," Slimak said. "As the season progressed, we came together."
Things started to come together immediately on Tuesday, and Slimak knew that's what his team needed.
"The first game we kind of needed to do something to make a statement to get back in it," Slimak said. "We just got some great performances to make it happen."
California Lutheran forced a decisive third game with an impressive 12-4 victory over the Presidents in the opening game on Tuesday. The Kingsmen pounded out 22 hits and scored in all but three innings.
Saito and Brad Fullerton both went 4-for-5, and Weston Clark was 3-for-5 and drove in three runs. Kay had a pair of hits, and Kay and Giles both drove in three runs.
California Lutheran also got a superlative pitching performance from Nate Wehner. He went the distance and allowed four runs on six hits. Wehner, who retired 11 consecutive hitters at one point, struck out eight and walked three.
Bryce Schnatterly pitched the first three innings and took the loss. He was one of six pitchers used by the Presidents.
California Lutheran led 3-1 before breaking the game open in the fifth and sixth. The Kingsmen scored four times in the fifth on five hits and then tacked on three more runs on four hits, including Kay's two-run double, in the sixth.
A 2,000-mile journey from California with hastily made travel plans meant the Kingsmen didn't get here until later on Wednesday evening. California was the last of the eight teams to arrive, but the Kingsmen were also the last team to leave ... with a national championship trophy in hand.