The Webster University baseball team remained number two in the nation in the NCAA rankings, the D3baseball.com rankings and the American Baseball Coaches Association Poll despite 10 straight wins against NCAA Division-III opponents.
A sweep of Spalding University (Ky.), No. 2 in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference behind Webster, helped give the Gorloks (26-4, 18-0 in the conference) two No. 1 overall votes in the D3Baseball.com rankings released April 21.
Webster Head Coach Bill Kurich is a voting member for the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA). He gave his No. 1 vote in the ABCA poll to the incumbent, Linfield College, (Ore.) Linfield lost to fellow Northwest Conference opponent George Fox University, (Ore.) on April 18. It was Linfield’s second loss to a Division-III team this season.
Webster currently leads the SLIAC conference, and if they win it, they will receive an automatic bid to the postseason.
Junior first baseman Jeff Kammer said he had the No. 1 rank on his mind all week after Linfield’s loss. Kammer’s homerun and two RBI in game two of the weekend against Spalding set Webster up to complete the sweep on Sunday.
In game two of the Spalding series, sophomore pitcher Issac Behme threw a complete game and he currently leads the Gorlok staff with three complete games. He allowed one run on four hits, and tied his career high with 13 strikeouts in a game.
“It’s definitely a cool thing to know people know who you are,” Behme said. “Being up in the ranking is great, but I guess the bottom line is who wins at the end.”
Senior second baseman Taylor Stoulp said the rankings don’t build pressure or nerves, but rather they are for him.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who know how to handle it,” Stoulp said. “We just can’t think about (trying to be No. 1) because if we do, then it’s a monkey on our backs.”
Stoulp is one of nine seniors who are trying to reach the College World Series (CWS) for the third straight year. Webster has finished fifth in the nation for the past two years. Webster’s starting lineup usually includes seven seniors who have all been to the CWS. Stoulp said certain expectations come from a team with that amount of experience.
“If we aren’t playing at the end of May, it’s all for nothing,” Kurich said. “Nobody is scared of anyone once you’re there. Rank doesn’t affect anything at that point.”
Kurich said one thing the rankings and national attention add is pressure to win. Webster plays its next seven games over, the next seven days but Kurich said he has to get his players to think one pitch at a time and not focus on the big picture: staying undefeated in the conference.
“You ask me game by game if we should win, and I’ll tell you yes every time,” Kurich said. “It’s a lot harder to say we are going to win seven in a row.”
That expectation was what Kurich set for himself nine years ago when he was hired by former Athletic Director Tom Hart.
“I told Coach Hart we should make the College World Series within five years,” Kurich said. “It took six years. But in the last three years, we have taken a lot of steps, and we are very fortunate to be where we are.”
In 2013, senior center fielder Corey Lasky, from Vernon Hills, Ill., just north of Chicago, debuted at Webster. He batted second in the lineup that year, and he brought speed and a consistency to the outfield and lineup. His .337 batting average and 24 steals were both second on the team and a .998 fielding percentage on 85 attempts was the team’s best for anyone with more than 25 chances.
He was attracted to Webster through senior pitcher Zach Schneider and junior outfielder Charlie Gandolfi, who he played against during high school in Chicago. This season, Lasky has lead off and started in center field every game for the Gorloks.
Schneider is 3-1 this season with a 2.45 ERA. Gandolfi is bats .397 with 12 RBI and has two walk-off hits this season.
“Kurich is a good recruiter, the way he has gotten those guys in the same area as me,” Lasky said. “I knew a little about the school, but I saw online Webster made the world series and that got me thinking about wanting to come here.”