The Webster University Baseball team saw its 2019 postseason run come to an end here Saturday afternoon with a 3-2 setback to Washington & Jefferson College in an elimination round game at the NCAA Division III World Series in Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
The 18th-ranked Gorloks complete the season with a 37-13 overall record and earned its fourth trip in the last eight years to the Division III World Series after winning both the Whitewater, Wis., Regional and the Midwest Super Regional title hosted by top-ranked Concordia-Chicago this season. The 37 wins were tied for second most in season in school history, while Webster's 50 games this season matches a school record as the Gorloks also played 50 games during its run to the 2012 D-III World Series.
Washington & Jefferson, who was the National Runner-up in 2017, improves to 38-12 on the year and advances to another elimination game on Sunday, June 2 against sixth-ranked Chapman, who fell 10-6 in the Bracket A winner's bracket match-up Saturday to 22nd-ranked UMass-Boston.
"We return a good portion of our line-up and a good portion of our pitching staff next season. We expected to be here this year, we expected to be good this year," Webster head coach Bill Kurich said in the post-game press conference. "We went through some lulls in the middle of the season when we weren't playing great, but I think this is going to be a big thing moving forward. Our seniors paved the way for this class next year to expect the same type of outcome throughout the season and that is just the culture of this program."
Saturday's game marked the final one for Webster's seven member senior class and this year's seniors were pitcher Jay Blake (Imperial, Mo./Mineral Area College), catcher Christian Dahncke (Vienna, Ill./Southeastern Illinois), pitcher Mike Kogut (Willow Springs, Ill./South Suburban College), first baseman/outfielder Austin LaHue (Stillwater, Okla./Stillwater), pitcher Adrian Santiago (Chicago, Ill./Oakton College), second baseman Danny Strohm (St. Louis, Mo./Greenville University) and right fielder Nate Tholl (Tinley Park, Ill./John A. Logan CC).
"We had seven seniors. Nate Tholl, Adrian Santiago and Danny Strohm really played a really big role for us, but all seven of those kids are great, great people, great students and are going to do outstanding things after college," said Kurich when asked about his seniors. Kurich is now 28-24 as Webster's coach in the NCAA Tournament, including 2-8 in the World Series.
In Saturday's game, the Presidents, who have won nine of its 10 postseason games this season, scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the second inning without the benefit of a hit. In the inning, Justin Griffin walked, moved to second on a bunt by Shayne Erny, advanced to third on a fly out to right and after Mullen Socha walked to put runners on first and third with two outs, W&J attempted a double steal as Socha stole second and on the play, Griffin scored from third when Webster junior catcher Joe Swanson (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine West) threw the ball wide of third for an error that allowed Griffin to score an unearned run to give the Presidents a 3-2 lead.
It marked the second consecutive game that Webster allowed the go-ahead run to score on an error as UMass-Boston scored an unearned run on an error in the bottom of the eighth of Friday's 4-3 opening round win.
Webster's offense recorded 10 hits in Saturday's game, including junior left fielder A.J. Smith (DuQuoin, Ill./DuQuoin) going 3-for-4 at the plate, while sophomore shortstop Matt Staker (El Cajon, Calif./Saint Augustine) and junior All-American first baseman Kyler Kent (Pottsboro, Texas/Pottsboro) had two hits in the loss.
"Throughout the game, we kind of felt we were on it, hitting the ball well," said Kent, who finished the year second on the team with 54 hits and has now had 137 hits the past two years. "We knew that if we put the ball in play, something good would happen, unfortunately, the ball never fell for us today."
On the season, Webster finished with 480 hits and scored 336 runs.
W&J took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning against Gorlok freshman pitcher Brendan May (St. Louis, Mo./St. John Vianney) as they recorded two hits and used a leadoff walk to their advantage to plate two runs, which both home on a 2-run single by Adam Moore.
The Gorloks, though, came right back in the top of the second and added two runs of their own to tie the game. In the inning, Smith led off with a triple, scored on an RBI single by Kent and after a wild pitch by W&J starting hurler Nick Drake moved Kent to second, Swanson would bring him home on his run scoring single up the middle.
After the second inning, both starting pitchers, May and Drake, calmed down as May would retire five of the final six hitters he faced before giving way to junior All-American reliever Shane Donovan (Bartlett, Ill./Bartlett) after allowing a lead-off single to Socha to open the fifth inning, while Drake would allow six hits and no runs over his next three-plus innings before being replaced in the sixth by Michael Zito after allowing a one-out single to Kent.
The Gorloks appeared to answer W&J's run in the third as they recorded three hits, but failed to get that hit they needed to tie the game. In the inning, junior center fielder Aron Hopp (Lincoln, Ill./Lincoln College) led off with a single, but we would be erased as he was trying to steal for the first out. After Tholl flied out for the second out, sophomore All-American third baseman Ben Swords (Freeport, Ill./Freeport) and Smith recorded back-to-back singles to put runners on first and third, but Drake forced Kent to hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
In the seventh, Staker reached on a single to left and moved to second on a bunt by Strohm, but Zito would strike out Hopp looking and then get out of the jam by forcing Tholl to ground out to end the inning.
The Gorloks got another hit from Smith in the eighth but could move him along as Clay Martin retired the next two Gorloks in order.
In the ninth, Swanson drew a lead-off walk and then Dahncke, who was pinch running for Swanson, moved to second on a bunt by Staker, but once again, the Gorloks couldn't get that clutch hit as Martin would get Strohm to fly out to shallow center and then ended the game by forcing Hopp to ground out to second to end Webster's season.
"We had opportunities, but we just didn't get the big hit. They got a big two-out hit early on and we just didn't get the hit when we needed too," said Kurich, who is now 433-169 as Webster's coach. "It was a close game, we had opportunities, chances played well and did a good job at battling through some tough innings defensively today."
May (4-2) took the loss for the Gorloks as he pitched four-plus innings and allowed three hits and three runs (two earned runs) while walking three and striking out none. Donovan, who was pitching for the first time since May 2 against Concordia-Chicago, pitched the final four innings and allowed just one hit while walking one and striking out one to keep the Gorloks in the game.
"I thought Brendan (May) and Shane (Donovan) did a good job the whole game to give us an opportunity and a chance in the later part of the game," the Webster coach added.
Soucha paced W&J with two of his team's three hits.
The President's had just four base runners over the final six innings of the game.
Drake (5-2) picked up the win for W&J as he pitched 5.1 innings and allowed eight hits and two runs while striking out two and walking none. Martin would record his 12th save of the year after allowing just one hit and walking one over the final two innings of the game.
In the game, the two teams combined to leave 15 runners on base as Webster left eight runners stranded and W&J left seven runners on base.
Kurich said he expects next season's team to be motivated by this year's success and continue to carry on the tradition that has been established over the last dozen years.
"We return a huge portion of our team, we knew we were really young but had a lot of players that had a lot of innings under their belt and we'll have the same type of thing next year," Kurich said. "We have to continue to move forward, but the expectations are high and they are every year for us and that is just a great thing and is a testament to the players of the past. There are just so many guys that have been important to this program over the years and to have these guys carry out the tradition, that is very important.
"We've had a good little run here for the last 10 or 12 years and to have these guys follow through and do what they do, it just helps the program. We'll have high expectations and the guys will go out for the summer, get better and we'll bring new guys in to compete and young guys will step up just like they always do and we'll have high expectations going into next year and that is something we expect in this program on a yearly basis."
STORY COURTESY OF WEBSTER UNIVERSITY SPORTS INFORMATION