Appleton, Wis. - Win the inches. The motto all season long came to fruition on Tuesday afternoon as the Cal Lutheran baseball team won the inches and much more as they captured the first NCAA Division III National Championship in program history after rallying for two wins over Washington & Jefferson at Fox Cities Stadium.
After dropping the first game of a best-of-three series to the Presidents on Monday 12-2, the Kingsmen flipped the script with a 12-4 victory in game two and a 7-2 win in game three to claim the title.
"If you would have asked me in February, that these guys and this team would be sitting here, I would have looked at you and said you're nuts," said head coach Marty Slimak, who brought the Kingsmen back to the National Championship for the third time in CLU history after finishing as a runner-up in 1992 and 1996. "We had so many question marks we didn't know we could get close to something like this, but as the season progressed these guys started coming together and it was just a great clubhouse."
From ti leaves to bleached hair, the Kingsmen clubhouse stayed loose on and off the field and came through when it mattered most on the final day of the Division III baseball season.
Needing a win to stay alive, CLU avenged its game one loss and then some by racking up 22 hits for 12 runs while getting a gutsy pitching performance from junior Nate Wehner, throwing on two day's rest. The Bellevue, Wash. native was spectacular for the Kingsmen when he was needed most, tossing a complete game and allowing just six hits while striking out eight. Wehner only allowed two runs through eight innings before the Presidents tacked on two more in the ninth when the game was well in hand.
Offensively, the Violet and Gold came out aggressive and set the tone early with two runs in the first inning. After loading the bases on a Max Weinstein hit-by-pitch, a Sinjin Todd single and a Jimmy Jauregui walk, Weston Clark hit a ball that the W&J first basemen threw away attempting to force Jauregui out at second. As the ball scampered into left field, Weinstein and Todd came around to score to put CLU ahead 2-0.
The Presidents responded with a run of their own in the bottom half of the first but the Kingsmen regained the lead on a sacrifice fly by Cheynne Giles in the third.
After a scoreless fourth, CLU exploded for four runs in the fifth and three runs in the sixth to jump out to a 10-2 lead. Four straight singles from Clark, Brad Fullerton, Giles and Trey Saito highlighted the fifth while a two-RBI double from Austin Kay in the sixth broke the game wide open.
The Kingsmen tacked on one run apiece in the seventh and ninth innings, courtesy of a pair of RBI doubles from Clark.
Fullerton and Saito led the team at the dish with impressive 4-for-5 performances while Jauregui and Clark tallied three hits each. Clark, Giles and Kay finished with three RBIs apiece and Todd, Jauregui, Giles and Saito each scored two runs in a game where every starter had a hit.
After taking care of business in game two to force a deciding game three, CLU turned to freshman pitcher Scott Roberts, this time on just one day's rest. Roberts gave everything he had in yet another gutsy pitching performance. After pitching in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Championship game and the West Region Semifinal, the Escondido, Calif. native stepped into the spotlight for the biggest game of his young career and gave CLU six strong innings allowing just five hits and two runs while striking out four.
The Kingsmen were the first team to scratch and took an early 2-0 lead after Gabe Gunter doubled to the right field wall with the bases loaded in the third inning.
W&J brought a run across with two doubles in the fourth but Kay singled to center to bring home Fullerton, who doubled to left to lead off the inning, to extend the CLU lead to 3-1.
A Presidents homerun in the fifth made it a one run game once again, 3-2, but the Kingsmen pulled away with a Jauregui sac fly in the seventh and three more runs in the eighth, highlighted by RBI singles from Kay and Weinstein.
After entering the game in the seventh inning, Miguel Salud pitched the final three innings to hold off any thought of a W&J comeback while notching his 14th save of the year to set a new CLU single-season record.
Along with the record, Salud earned Most Outstanding Player honors after posting a 1.23 ERA with three saves, nine strikeouts and just one earned run in four appearances and 7.1 innings.
Also named to the All-Tournament Team were Weinstein, Kay, Fullerton, Saito and Wehner. Weinstein was a catalyst at the top of the lineup for CLU throughout the College World Series and finished with a .393 average (11-for-28) with six runs scored, a homerun and four RBIs. Fullerton led the team with a .478 average (11-for-23) with six runs and six RBIs while Saito also tallied 11 hits for a .458 average to go with seven runs and five RBIs. Kay came through with five hits on championship Tuesday and finished the tournament with a .346 average and seven RBIs. Wehner, meanwhile, was instrumental in keeping the Kingsmen alive, finishing with 16.1 innings thrown, one complete game and 15 strikeouts.
"This national championship is for all those guys that came before us and all those guys that bled the purple and gold," said Slimak.
Cal Lutheran finishes with an overall record of 40-11 and becomes just the second team in program history to reach the 40-win plateau, joining the national runner-up 1992 squad that went 43-6.
Box Score: CLU 12, WJ 4
Box Score: CLU 7, WJ 3
Tournament Central: 2017 NCAA Division III Baseball Championships
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