APPLETON, Wis. — Despite a quality start from senior pitcher David Mueller, a shaky beginning and sparse hitting for the Webster University baseball team led to a 3-2 defeat against Wheaton College (Mass.) on Friday, May 25 at Fox Cities Stadium.
The loss does not mean the Gorloks are out of the championship in the double-elimination style tournament. Webster will play the Kean University Cougars on Saturday, May 26 at 10 a.m. Kean lost to SUNY Cortland, 10-5.
Mueller made the start for the Gorloks in Game 1 of the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship. He gave up singles to the first two Wheaton batters he faced. Right fielder Sean Ryan, who led Wheaton with a .389 average coming into today’s game, put the Lyons up 1-0 with an RBI groundout.
Freshman first baseman Apolinar De la Cruz, named the inaugural D3baseball.com National Rookie of the Year, followed that up with a single to right field to put Webster in an early 2-0 hole.
“I didn’t have any jitters,” Mueller said. “They came out aggressive and it worked out for them. They put a hit-and-run on with the second guy. The first guy kind of dinked the ball into the outfield. The next thing you know, it’s first and third with nobody out. That’s pretty tough to get out of with nobody scoring. They just kept hitting the ball and putting it in play, and good things happened for them.”
Mueller recovered with a 1-2-3 bottom of the second, but Webster still trailed 2-0. The Gorloks got on the board in the top of the third. After a one-out triple by junior center fielder Cody Stevenson, sophomore shortstop Taylor Stoulp, the Central Regional MVP, blooped a single to center that brought home Stevenson and cut Wheaton’s lead in half. The hit also extended Stoulp’s hitting streak to 19 games.
“(Stoulp) has come through time and time again in big spots,” coach Bill Kurich said. “He’s become an RBI guy in the 2-hole. We’ve needed another guy to step up, and he’s been it. He’s become more of a middle-of-the-order type hitter. He’s had opportunities, even in the 2 slot, to drive some runs in and be a producer for us. He’s done a great job at that spot, and I expect him to do the same tomorrow.”
Stoulp said he hasn’t been doing anything too different during his hitting streak.
“I’ve been keeping a good approach at the plate and staying confident,” Stoulp said.
Later in the same inning, senior first baseman Tom Henke got on with a base knock, but Webster didn’t push any more runs across and still trailed 2-1.
A strange occurrence was a bit of a break for Webster in the bottom of the third. Wheaton shortstop Eric Jensen appeared to have second base stolen, but he briefly came off the bag. That’s when sophomore second baseman Kevin Kojs seized the opportunity and applied a tag to Jensen. The second base umpire called Jensen out. Lyons’ coach Eric Podbelski came out to argue the call.
Fourth-inning mishaps cost Gorloks
In the top of the fourth, when Webster appeared to have some momentum on its side, junior third baseman Mitchell Bonds doubled to left field. Kurich, who coaches third base when the Gorloks are batting, decided to send Bonds to third. Bonds was thrown out by several steps in what was the first out of the inning.
“I was hoping he’d be safe,” Kurich said. “Looking back now, obviously, we wouldn’t have done it. It got rattled around down there, and I thought he had a good opportunity to get to third — it was my fault.”
In the bottom of the fourth, Wheaton catcher Dan Gusovsky doubled to right field over junior Alex Kazmierski’s head. Mueller then hit the next two batters to load up the bases for the Lyons. An errant pick-off throw to second base by Mueller brought home Gusovsky to make it 3-1 Wheaton.
“It wasn’t a great throw and it wasn’t a great catch,” Mueller said. “Little things like that cost you runs on this stage. (It was) another mistake that was avoidable.”
Webster put runners on throughout the game, but struggled to score against Wheaton’s starter, sophomore right-hander Alec Palioca. Gandolfi hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the top of the seventh, and the Gorloks were running out of chances.
This was not the first time Webster had faced Wheaton or Palioca. Palioca pitched against Webster earlier this year in March in Winter Haven, Fla. In that game, a 1-0 Wheaton victory, Palioca went 7 1/3 innings scattering six hits, walking three and striking out two in a no decision.
Palioca was nearly as good today. He went 7 1/3 innings, allowing one run on eight hits. He struck out seven and walked none to earn the victory.
“He’s a pretty freaking good pitcher is what he is,” Kurich said. “He does a good job locating his fastball. He throws a breaking ball and a changeup for a strike whenever he needs to. He holds runners well. He’s quick to the plate, so it kind of makes it tough for us to play the game the way we want to.”
Mueller was lifted after seven innings for junior Steven Dooley. Mueller gave up five hits, three runs — two earned — and one walk. He recorded seven strikeouts and took the loss.
“I thought I threw well,” Mueller said. “I missed my spots a couple times and that really killed me. When you’re playing at this level, two or three mistakes can cost you the game, and that’s what happened today. They were good hitters; they didn’t really chase a lot. They didn’t give me anything. They just took advantage of mistakes.”
In the top of the ninth, Bonds was hit by a pitch with one out. Pinch-hitting senior Matt Moore moved Bonds over with a groundout, then Kojs singled to bring home pinch-runner sophomore Michael Aaron, which cut the deficit to one.
But Gandolfi grounded out to short to end the game.
Webster, Behme look to avoid elimination tomorrow
Kurich said after today’s game that freshman Isaac Behme will start tomorrow’s game. Behme started Game 2 of the Central Regional and helped Webster defeat DePauw University 10-2. Kurich said for Behme to be successful, the lefty needs to get ahead of hitters.
“He’ s got to pitch both sides of the plate with his fastball,” Kurich said. “His changeup and breaking ball have been good. When he gets ahead, he can be tough.”
Behme said he’s not worried too much about tomorrow, which could be the Gorloks’ final game of the season.
“I need to try to stay relaxed and keep doing what we’ve been doing all year,” Behme said. “(It’s) just another baseball game. It’s on a little bigger stage. I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
In order to pull out a must win tomorrow, Kurich said the Gorloks need to keep playing the game the way they’ve been playing it all year.
“We’re not going to change anything,” Kurich said. “We had a good mindset. We had an opportunity two outs in the ninth in Game 1 of the College World Series. If you had asked me on Sept. 1 if I thought we’d be in that spot or we’d take it, I’d sure as heck say, ‘Yeah.’
“I don’t expect it to be anything less than a battle all day tomorrow.”
— Josh Sellmeyer contributed to this report.
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