Webster baseball earns first-ever berth in College World Series

Webster University senior David Mueller fires the final pitch of the NCAA Central Region title game. Mueller struck out Birmingham-Southern's Trey Chambers to send Webster to its first World Series. PHOTO COURTESY OF RICH STEVENSON.

For the first time in program history, the Webster University baseball team will head to the College World Series in Appleton, Wis. The Gorloks, seeded fifth in the NCAA Central Regional tournament, won 3-2 over the No. 1-seeded Birmingham-Southern College Panthers on Saturday, May 19 at USA Stadium in Millington, Tenn.

Junior pitcher Steven Dooley said the atmosphere in the Gorloks’ dugout in this important game was energetic.

“From the first pitch of the game, the dugout was loud,” Dooley said. “When the dugout has energy, it helps you play a lot better, throw more strikes, helps you hit. If our dugout stays in the game, we’re going to be in every game.”

Junior Cody Hafeli started the game for Webster and had the task of taking on the No. 7 team in all of Division-III baseball. Birmingham-Southern countered with junior Blake Stevens. The game was a pitchers’ duel for the most part with several hits scattered throughout for both squads. The contest was scoreless through 5 1/2 innings.

Hafeli didn’t need to be fancy to earn the win. He didn’t strike out any Panthers’ hitters and walked one, but he got the outs he needed. The Gorloks’ starter pitched into the ninth and allowed six hits. Hafeli was removed after walking the lead-off batter in the top of the ninth.

Hafeli had some tremendous defensive help behind him. Junior center fielder Cody Stevenson made a diving play during the top of the second to take a hit away from the Panthers. Webster also turned a 4-3 double play to get Hafeli out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth.

The Gorloks’ offense didn’t have as much of an impact as they had in previous games. The team had been averaging about 10 runs per game coming into Saturday’s contest.

The first two Webster hitters, Stevenson and sophomore shortstop Taylor Stoulp, reached on singles, but Stevenson was picked off second base by Stevens. Senior first baseman Tom Henke then struck out swinging, but Stoulp stole second, giving the Gorloks their 150th stolen base of 2012. Webster couldn’t put a run across, though.

Webster spread hits throughout the next few innings, but didn’t get on the board until the sixth. Junior third baseman Mitchell Bonds singled to left to score junior right fielder Alex Kazmierski to give Webster a 1-0 lead.

Bonds then stole second, but a diving play by Birmingham-Southern right fielder Stephen Denton ended Webster’s threat.

The Gorloks had their first two hitters reach base in the bottom of the eighth inning. A wild pitch by Panthers’ reliever Blake Yance advanced the runners. Designated hitter Mike Rainbolt followed that up with a two-RBI single to score Henke and Kazmierski, giving Webster a 3-0 lead.

Senior David Mueller, who started Game 1 of the Central Regional for the Gorloks and picked up the win, relieved Hafeli in the ninth. Mueller gave up hits to the first two batters he faced, which loaded the bases with nobody out. Mueller got the Panthers to hit into a force out at home plate, then struck out the next batter looking.

However, sophomore second baseman Kevin Kojs booted a ground ball with two outs, which allowed the Panthers to score two and make it 3-2. Dooley, who was warming up in the bullpen if needed, said he knew Mueller was the guy to end the game.

“He has been good for us all season,” Dooley said. “I knew he was going to pull it out. I was ready if the time came, but I had all the faith in the world in David (Mueller).”

Mueller picked up his teammate’s error by striking out Trey Chambers on a full-count pitch. Senior catcher Matt Moore and the rest of the Gorloks rushed the mound to celebrate Webster’s first-ever College World Series berth.

Mueller said the whole scenario, especially the last pitch, was surreal.

“I still can’t believe it,” Mueller said. “I was happy he swung and missed and that I didn’t walk him. It’s unreal, getting the strikeout, being on the mound for the last out, making him swing and miss. It’s an unbelievable feeling … that’s the spot I want to be in.

“I was telling my dad after the game, ‘How many times do you practice pitching with two strikes with going to the World Series on the line?’ The adrenaline was pumping. You live for stuff like that. That’s why you play the game.”

Webster’s opponent for Round 1 of the World Series will be the winner of the Mansfield Regional tournament. The Wheaton College Lyons out of Norton, Mass., will face the Western New England University Golden Bears a winner-take-all game on Sunday, May 20 at 11 a.m.

Webster’s first game in Appleton is scheduled for Friday, May 25 at 10 a.m. Dooley said with the way the ballclub is playing right now, the Gorloks will be a formidable opponent for the other schools in the Series.

“If we play like we have this whole tournament, it’s going to be hard to beat us because of the way we’re hitting and pitching and the way everybody’s in the game,” Dooley said. “If we play every game the way we did against them (Birmingham-Southern), we have a very good shot of going far in the tournament.”

Read about the Gorloks’ Regional championship run:

Visit websterjournal.com later this week for a preview of the Gorloks’ College World Series opening-round game.

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