The Webster University baseball team will play its first-ever College World Series contest against a familiar foe — the Wheaton College Lyons.
Webster and Wheaton faced off earlier this regular season on March 11 in Winter Haven, Fla. Wheaton came away with a 1-0 walk-off win over the Gorloks, as the Lyons tallied their lone run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Webster (35-12 overall record) will get its shot at revenge on Friday, May 25 at 10 a.m. in Appleton, Wis. The Gorloks won four straight games in Millington, Tenn., to claim the Central Regional championship and earn one of eight spots in the World Series. Webster enters its game against Wheaton on a seven-game winning streak.
The Lyons (38-9) are making their second appearance in the World Series. Wheaton, which is located in Norton, Mass., finished as the runner-up in the 2006 CWS.
Wheaton defeated Western New England University 2-0 to win the New England Regional tournament. The Lyons have won five of their last six games and are currently the No. 7-ranked team in the nation.
Webster coach Bill Kurich thinks the Gorloks’ 1-0 loss to Wheaton earlier in the year will help Webster in the teams’ second matchup.
“I think the impact is going to be just this — we’re not going to be worried by them,” Kurich said. “When you’re playing a team you know nothing about and see they’ve got 38 wins, you know they’re going to be good. It’s almost like you’re in a fight and you’ve got to take the first punch just to figure out how strong that guy is. How strong that punch is — can we handle it? I think we’ve already done that. So, we’re going to come out swinging.”
Kurich said senior ace David Mueller will start against Wheaton. Mueller started Game 1 of the Gorloks’ Central Regional opener against Washington University and earned the victory. He also closed out Birmingham-Southern College to send Webster to the World Series.
“He’s been our ace all year long,” Kurich said. “He’s been our ace pretty much for his three years he’s been here. He will get the ball in Game 1, and god-willing we’re still around later in the tournament, he’ll pitch again. He’ll do a good job.
“(Wheaton has) good hitters one through nine, but David is an outstanding pitcher. He’s an outstanding pitcher at the Division-III level, Division-II level, Division-I level — it wouldn’t matter. If he makes his pitches and he’s down in the strike zone and gets ahead of people, we’ll be just fine.”
Mueller is 8-2 on the season with a 1.91 ERA. The tall, lanky right-hander has struck out 102 batters, a Webster single-season record, while walking only 23. Opponents are batting .196 against him.
“Their lineup is probably a little bit different, just like ours is a little bit different,” Mueller said. “We’re definitely a different team from then. We’ve grown a lot. They’re a good team — they play solid defense, throw the ball pretty well, hit pretty well — they do all the things right. We were in a position to beat them and we just didn’t take advantage of opportunities. This time, we have to take advantage of opportunities.”
Wheaton coach Eric Podbelski, who has compiled a 472-176-4 record during his 15 years coaching the Lyons, said his team’s 1-0 win over Webster doesn’t mean much now.
“I’m not sure how we match up with Webster,” Podbelski said in an email. “One game early in the season doesn’t paint a true picture. That game could have gone either way, and we know Webster has a great team and a great program. Also, over the course of a season, I’m sure that both teams have continued to evolve.”
Podbelski did not say who his starter against Webster would be. Junior right-hander Frank Holbrook started Game 1 of the New England Regional for the Lyons and would seem to be the obvious pick. Holbrook is 9-0 on the season with a 1.21 ERA. Sophomore righty Alec Palioca has also had a standout season. He is 8-0 with a 1.39 ERA.
Regardless of the pitcher the Gorloks face, Kurich believes his team will be ready.
“There’s no magic formula, no magic pep talk or anything like that,” Kurich said. “It’s about playing the game the right way. We were trying to play the game the right way on Feb. 1, and we’re going to try to play the same way on May 25. We don’t change anything. That’s how we got where we are.”
To watch Webster’s game against Wheaton, visit http://www.ncaa.com/sports/baseball/d3. All College World Series games will be streamed live for no charge.