For me, a team is defined by how it handles its worst moments, and the Webster University baseball team experienced one of their worst moments of the young season on March 22 against Concordia University.
“That one kind of stung,” said the understated junior outfielder Charlie Gandolfi.
With the game firmly in hand, the Gorloks squandered a 2-run 9th inning lead and lost the game 3-2, according to a Webster Athletics article. It was the sort of game that Webster has not lost in the previous few years. Indeed, Webster defeated Concordia last year on their way to the College World Series.
“We fell apart at the end there against Concordia,” said senior second baseman Taylor Stoulp.
The following day, Webster traveled to GCS Park to play a double-header against the College of St. Scholastica (8-7) and then Illinois Wesleyan University (IWU 5-7).
Webster responded with a 3-2 win in extra innings against Scholastica, and a 7-0 thrashing of IWU.
Now, it’s only March, and yes, Scholastica and IWU aren’t the best opponents. They aren’t at the same level as other teams Webster has faced like Concordia or Marietta. Despite these wins on Sunday, Webster has a lot of work to do.
However, these are the games that good teams find a way to win.
The first game was a pitchers’ duel between Webster’s C.J. Lee and Scholastica’s Jordan Risse. Twice the Gorloks took the lead, and twice they surrendered it back to Scholastica. It seemed for a moment as if Webster might have been rattled by the previous day’s result, but in a display of their maturity they held out and it was Scholastica who blinked first.
In the tenth inning, senior Taylor Stoulp was hit by a pitch. Zach Allam advanced him to second on an exceptional sacrifice bunt, and Scholastica elected to walk designated hitter Joe Winckel in order to face Gandolfi, a late-inning substitute for Max Morohashi.
“Before that inning started I could tell I was going to come up in a big spot. I was looking forward to it,” Gandolfi said.
Gandolfi ripped a single passed Scholastica’s third baseman Brian Minks and Stoulp crossed the plate as the winning run. In their first game after the loss to Concordia, Webster conquered their late-inning jitters.
The second game lacked the drama, but not the firepower. Both Stoulp and senior center fielder Corey Laskey smashed home runs over the right field wall, and this offensive explosion, coupled with the dynamic pitching of Zach Schneider, enabled Webster to claim victory at a canter.
One clear reason for optimism is that the team has a wealth of pitching talent. Schneider was totally in command throughout the game against IWU. Lee, in his first ever varsity start (he had only thrown .1 innings at the varsity level) was perhaps even more impressive as he fanned six batters over six innings. The depth on the team (which also includes lefty hurler Chris Jansen and a ten-game winner from last season Isaac Behme) has pushed Dylan Dean Smith into the bullpen. Smith was arguably the Gorloks best pitcher on their trip to Florida.
Head coach Bill Kurich addressed some of Webster’s late inning issues.
“We’ve got to finish a game. Hopefully it (the wins on Sunday) starts a future of figuring out how to win games,” Kurich said. “We’ve lost three games, and they’ve all been after the 8th inning.”
In his new role, Smith picked up two wins this week. Kurich said he didn’t know if Smith’s move to the bullpen would be permanent or not, but moving Smith into the set-up role could fix those late-inning problems.
The Gorloks (8-3) are now set to enter conference play. The squad lost only one game last year in the SLIAC and is looking for more already.
“24-0 (in conference play). That’s it. We’re supposed to win, and we gotta win,” Stoulp said.
When Stoulp hit his homerun, he tripped over the bag and face planted as he rounded first base. He laughed about it after the game and tried to blame his cleats for the wipeout. The fall was a neat encapsulation of the team’s performance so far this year: undeniable talent and power, with the occasional misstep. How they handle those missteps will determine how far they go.