APPLETON, Wis. — Matt Moore had seen this movie before. He was only hoping it would have a similar ending.
Moore, a senior catcher on the Webster University baseball team, was having a nightmarish game against Kean University (N.J.) on Saturday, May 26. A loss to Kean would mean the Gorloks had played their last game of the 2012 College World Series — and Moore had played the last game of his collegiate career.
Things began to unravel for Moore and Webster in the top of the eighth inning. Webster had scored five unanswered runs to take a 5-2 lead over the Cougars heading into that fateful frame. The Gorloks had all the momentum in the world and appeared to be minutes away from the program’s first-ever World Series win.
But that’s when Moore made a crucial mental mistake. With two outs and a runner on second base, junior relief pitcher Steven Dooley threw strike three to Steve Sanguiliano, who whiffed badly on the breaking ball in the dirt. Sanguiliano bolted for first base and Shane Alvarez, who was on second, took off for third.
Moore had been through this scenario hundreds of times. After perfectly blocking the ball, all he had to do was throw it to senior first baseman Tom Henke, and the Gorloks would be out of the inning and just three outs away from a win.
Instead, Moore decided to fire the ball to junior third baseman Mitchell Bonds, who was as stunned as the Webster crowd at the development. Alvarez wisely retreated to second base, and Sanguiliano was safe at first. The inning continued.
Kean’s next two batters drove singles into left field, plating two and making the score 5-4. With runners on first and third and Joe O’Connor at the dish, the Cougars decided to attempt a delayed steal.
Dylan Laguna, who was at first base, ran for second after a Dooley pitch. Moore stalled and charged toward Laguna to try to freeze Eddie Jennings at third base. Then, Moore chucked the ball to sophomore second baseman Kevin Kojs, who had no chance at tagging the speedy Laguna.
Kojs then tried to throw the ball back to Moore, but his toss sailed wide and high of Moore’s outstretched glove and banged off the backstop. Moore rushed to retrieve the ball, but he was too late. Jennings and Laguna scored, and Kean had a 6-5 lead.
“I was the lowest in the world, man,” Moore said after the game. “I’ve never felt anything like it. I’ve got the other team laughing at me, everyone on my team just trying to pick me up and people yelling at me — just so many emotions going through my head.
“But you know what? I realize I have a team that cares about me. When I went into the dugout, I just cheered right away because I knew they were going to pick me up.”
Moore knew because he had been in a similar situation before. Flash back to Moore’s senior year at Air Academy High School (Colo.). During his team’s district championship game — and what could have been the final game of Moore’s high school career — Moore threw the ball over the third baseman’s head during the seventh inning.
Moore’s error nearly cost Air Academy a district title, but the Kadets bailed their teammate out and went on to win the game. Moore did help his own cause, though, by chopping a single through the infield the inning after his throwing mishap.
Flash forward to the Kean game. Moore stepped into the batter’s box in the bottom of the ninth inning with nobody on, one out and Webster down 7-6. The Gorloks needed Moore to somehow, someway get on base, or else they would be one out away from an early World Series exit.
With thoughts of his high school game bouncing around in his head, Moore hit a high chopper toward Kean shortstop Tyler Smarslok. Smarslok took a couple steps back, but the ball’s heavy topspin caused it to jump off the infield dirt and over Smarslok’s head for a single.
“It found a way, man,” Moore said. “It found a way through and I can’t be more happy about it. It was meant to happen I guess, in some sense.”
Moore was lifted for a pinch runner. Sophomore Michael Aaron singled up the middle, then freshman Charlie Gandolfi flied out. Junior Cody Stevenson walked to load the bases, which brought in sophomore Taylor Stoulp. The red-hot Stoulp roped a single down the right field line to bring in two runs and give Webster an exhilarating 8-7 walk-off win. Moore was off the hook.
“It almost happened identical (to my high school game),” Moore said. “I can’t explain it to you, it’s unbelievable. The feeling I get from it is (my teammates) are my best friends. Words don’t even express how much this team means to me.”
Webster coach Bill Kurich knows how much Moore cares about this team and this season.
“I told the guys after the game that it’s a life-changing game for Matt Moore,” Kurich said. “If things did not turn out the way they did, that would have probably stuck with him for a long time. I’m thrilled for the guys. To come back and win like that and pick up your teammates is awesome.”
Moore can sense that Webster’s season-saving, come-from-behind win over Kean could mean big things are in store for the Gorloks.
“If anything, that was the biggest kick in the butt for us,” Moore said. “All the way through the (Central) Regional, we played harder than any other team. You could see it in our eyes — we wanted every win more than any other team we played. (Against Kean), that same feeling came back. We didn’t have that feeling (in a 3-2 loss to Wheaton College the day before). Everybody was kind of questioning each other and staying down. And now, I think we’ve got the inspiration back.
“Something good is going to come. It does feel like destiny. Let’s be honest.”