November 25, 2020

A 1-2 Knockout: Gorloks beat No. 1 Wheaton, No. 2 Marietta

Bill Kurich got exactly what he wanted.

Kurich, Webster University’s baseball coach, wanted his squad to face the very best teams in the nation when the Gorloks competed in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational on March 10 through 16.

When Kurich submitted a schedule request form to RussMatt tournament director Dave Barnard, he didn’t ask to play specific teams. He didn’t care if the Gorloks played in-region or out-of-region opponents. He only wanted to play the best NCAA Division-III squads the tournament had to offer.

Against Wheaton, Gorlok right-handed hurler Steven Dooley threw all 9 innings, allowing just 1 unearned run on 5 hits. In a seven-day span, Webster played the No. 1, No. 2, No. 4, No. 9 and No. 25 teams in the country. “I love it,” Dooley said. “It definitely makes me throw to my very highest, my very best, because I know I have to be perfect.” CONTRIBUTED BY HOLLY SWAN.

Barnard obliged. In a span of seven days, Webster played the No. 1, No. 2, No. 4, No. 9 and No. 25 teams in the country, according to D3baseball.com’s Top 25 poll.

The Gorloks — ranked 19th in the most recent D3baseball.com poll — beat four of those five top-ranked squads, as well as unranked College of New Jersey. Webster’s only blemish during the spring-break trip was a 10-3 loss to No. 4-ranked Cortland State University (N.Y.) on March 11.

“One of the things that has happened within our program (is) it wasn’t a big, big deal for our guys to go and play those teams,” Kurich said. “We knew it was going to be a good challenge. But it wasn’t like, ‘Hey, we’re just going in there hoping and praying that we stay with these teams.’ We knew that if we played well, they were going to have problems with us.”

When Kurich and his coaching staff initially analyzed Webster’s spring-break schedule, they couldn’t help but chuckle. Whoever the coaches selected as their starting pitcher for Game 1 would also be their starting pitcher for Game 5.

Coincidentally, that pitcher would have the tall task of facing the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the country in Wheaton College (Mass.) and Marietta College (Ohio), respectively.

Wheaton beat Webster 3-2 in the Gorloks’ first-ever College World Series (CWS) game last May. Marietta knocked Webster out of the CWS with a come-from-behind 12-7 victory. Marietta went on to win the CWS for a second straight year when it beat Wheaton 7-2 in the championship game.

Gorlok right-hander Steven Dooley took the loss in last year’s Marietta game after allowing 8 earned runs in 4 innings of relief work. In the 3-2 loss to Wheaton, Dooley came out of the bullpen and tossed 1 inning of shutout ball. When Webster fell 1-0 to Wheaton during the 2012 regular season, Dooley was pegged with the loss when he came out of the ‘pen in the ninth inning and allowed a walk-off run.

This season, with both Wheaton and Marietta once again on the Gorloks’ schedule, Dooley said he wanted a chance to “get my revenge (and) redeem myself.”

Dooley got exactly what he wanted. The coaching staff selected Dooley to start Game 1 against No. 1 Wheaton, which meant he would also start against No. 2 Marietta.

Dooley, a senior, did not disappoint. Against Wheaton, Dooley threw all 9 innings, allowing just 1 unearned run on 5 hits. The Gorloks banged out 10 hits against Wheaton ace Alec Palioca — who shut down the Gorloks in the 2012 CWS — and romped to a 10-1 victory.

The day after the Wheaton win, Webster held a 3-0 lead over fourth-ranked Cortland State. But the Red Dragons battered Webster pitching to the tune of 10 runs on 10 hits to claim the 7-run win.

On March 13, the Gorloks and the College of New Jersey were knotted at 5-all after nine innings. In the bottom of the 10th, senior center fielder Cody Stevenson singled in junior pinch runner Jared Turner to give Webster a 6-5 walk-off win.

The following day, Webster shut out the ninth-ranked Saint Joseph’s College (Maine) Monks behind a complete-game effort from senior right-hander Cody Hafeli. Four of the Gorloks’ five runs in the 5-0 win were unearned, as the Monks committed 4 errors.

On March 15, Dooley continued his torrid start to the season against Marietta. He allowed 2 runs — both unearned — in 8 2/3 innings. Dooley threw 143 pitches against Marietta just five days after tossing 115 pitches against Wheaton.

Despite Dooley’s performance, Marietta and the Gorloks were tied at 2 after nine innings. In the top of the 10th, junior shortstop Ryan Hall drove in Stevenson with a single to give Webster a 3-2 lead. Senior pitcher Jason Gray closed out the win, and the Gorloks completed a sweep of the top two teams in D-III baseball.

Webster capped a 5-1 week with a 9-4 win over No. 25 Augustana College (Ill.) on March 16. Dooley said the Gorloks’ four wins over top-25 teams, particularly the ones over Wheaton and Marietta, demonstrate that last year’s run to the CWS “wasn’t a fluke.”

“We weren’t the team that just got hot at the right time,” Dooley said. “I mean, yeah, we got hot, but we were a very good team last year. We’re a very good team this year.

“It just shows that we can be one of the best teams in the nation if we play like we’re capable of. If we hit like we know we can, if we pitch like we know we can, we’re going to be a very hard team to beat. And this week, I feel like, showed that.”

With the four consecutive victories to end the RussMatt Invitational, Webster’s overall record is 7-5. Next up for the Gorloks is a Saturday, March 23 doubleheader at MacMurray College (Ill.). Webster then hosts MacMurray for a game on Sunday, March 24 at noon at GCS Ballpark in Sauget, Ill. The three-game series marks the beginning of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season for Webster.

Senior outfielder Alex Kazmierski, who was named the SLIAC Hitter of the Week after going 6 for 15 with 4 RBIs in Florida, said beating elite D-III programs boosted Webster’s confidence. Kazmierski said he hopes the week in Florida won’t be the pinnacle for the Gorloks, who have their eyes set on a return trip to Appleton, Wis., the site of the CWS.

“This is just the beginning of the year,” Kazmierski said. “We were lucky to go out and get to see this type of competition. And now, our season really starts to track back to Appleton.

“Baseball is a funny game — you can win against the No. 1 team in the country, but then you can come out the next day and play the crappiest baseball of your life. This is not a season-defining week. There’s a lot more baseball to play.”

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