May 31, 2010

By Bryan Rose
Special to NCAA.com

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. - The Linfield Wildcats' offense, which had been one of the best over the first three days of the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship, looked anemic through much of their contest with Heidelberg in a Monday elimination game.

But first basemen Rhett Fenton changed all that with one swing of the bat.

With the bases loaded in the eighth inning and Linfield (McMinnville, Ore.) trailing 4-2, Fenton blasted a grand slam to put the Wildcats ahead for good on the way to a 6-4 victory that ensured they'll play on the tournament's final day.

"It feels great," Fenton said of his first-ever game winning hit. "I was just looking for a good pitch to hit. I knew I put a good swing on it and once it went over, it was pretty exciting."

Heidelberg (Tiffin, Ohio) clicked in the first inning as Alex Monroe collected a bases-clearing double to give the Student Princes an early 3-0 lead.

Heidelberg added a run in the fourth but squandered a chance to add some insurance in the same frame. The Student Princes loaded the bases but a ground ball back to the pitcher led to a double play with Linfield pitcher Tommy George throwing to home and catcher Mitch Webb firing to first for the second out.

"There were a couple of key moments," Linfield coach Scott Brosius said. "When innings like that happen, it is about damage control. That was the inning of the game for us. Once we got out of it, we knew we could make a run at it offensively."

Linfield got on the scoreboard in the sixth on a sacrifice fly and chased Heidelberg starter Everett Thomas from the game.

Thomas, who had not started a game since mid-April, pitched a solid 5 2/3 innings, allowing just one run on four hits, while walking three and striking out three. "What an effort," Heidelberg coach Matt Palm said. "What he did today was short of spectacular. We didn't know what we were going to do today and Everett came to me and said he wanted the ball."

With Thomas out of the game, Linfield made its comeback in the eighth.

Following a Dustin Smith walk, Kelson Brown singled down the left field line to put runners on first and third with nobody out. Cole Bixenman doubled to right field to score Smith and put runners at second and third.

The next batter was Zach Boskovich, who was hit by the pitch to load the bases and set up Fenton's heroics.

"It wasn't a terrible pitch," said Heidelberg reliever Andy Lowe, who gave up the grand slam. "It was down and away. He is a pretty strong kid to be able to pull it like that."

George made the lead stand up as he retired the final three Heidelberg batters and send Linfield to the final day of games.

George earned the win in relief, throwing 5 2/3 innings and allowed no runs on five hits. He did not issue a walk and struck out three.

Linfield plays in Tuesday's first game against either Illinois Wesleyan or SUNY-Cortland game. The Wildcats will have to win twice on Tuesday to claim the championship. The second game is scheduled for 3:30 on Tuesday.