No way was Marietta going to let its shot at a championship fade away Tuesday afternoon in the NCAA Division III finals.
Some how, some way, the Etta Express was going to leave town with a national title firmly in its grasp.
So No. 1 Marietta (47-4) did what all great teams do, it shook off adversity as if it was no big deal, and bounced back from a game one loss to Chapman with an 18-5 drubbing of the Panthers in a decisive second game at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton, Wis.
It was perfect revenge for a 15-4 loss in the opener to the ninth-ranked Panthers (37-13) and a perfect ending to a season that was filled with so much promise. The Etta Express won 22 of its final 23 games as it grabbed its first championship since 2006 and the fifth in program history.
“It’s a big deal,” Marietta head coach Brian Brewer said. “To win a championship is special and after the way we lost our first game, we did a nice job of moving forward and getting the job done.”
This Marietta team has played with confidence all season, and the finale was no exception. Brewer said his players had put too much into this season to let it end with a loss.
“Our guys have worked as hard as anyone all season, maybe harder than some teams, and they really believed they were the best team,” Brewer said. “That is not to take anything away from Chapman, because they have a great team, but we were confident we were good enough to win the title.”
The Etta Express cranked out 17 hits, with Aaron Hopper leading the way with four hits and four RBI. Jordan Grilliott and John Snyder came through with three hits apiece.
“I was a little concerned about our offense after the first game, but I knew we had the ability to take advantage of their pitchers because they were a little tired,” Brewer said. “We jumped on them early and had a lot of different guys step up.”
Austin Blaski sealed the deal with a strong pitching performance. He went six innings and allowed one run on two hits and struck out four.
Christian Maeitta took the loss for Chapman in 2 1/3 innings of work, giving up six runs on seven hits. He struck out one and faced a total of 15 batters. Adam Coggan tallied two of Chapman’s eight hits.
For the seniors, this win was extra special. They end their careers on top after coming up empty-handed the previous three seasons and Brewer could not say enough about the contributions Casey Levens, Britt Meador (injured), Mark Williams and Snyder have made this season.
“I am very proud of them,” Brewer said. “It is great to see them end their careers with a championship. All four of them have been extensions of our coaching staff and they have been a big part of our success.”
For the returning players, the opportunity to experience the thrill of winning a title is priceless.
“There is no question the experience is going to help those guys out next season,” Brewer said. “We had a lot of younger guys get time this season and it is going to benefit them in the long run.”
Chapman didn’t hold back offensively in the first game, playing like a team on a mission as it stepped up in a win or say goodbye situation in the first game on Monday..
The Panthers cranked out 17 hits, including four by Adam Velez, and James Parr came through with three hits as Chapman avenged a 9-4 loss to Marietta earlier in the tournament and set the stage for a winner takes all finale. Parr and Velez combined to drive in five runs as well as Chapman snapped Marietta’s 21-game win streak.
Chapman took command early, building a 4-0 lead in the third inning. Velez drove in a run on a groundout while Parr and Piro smashed doubles into the outfield to bring runs across the plate. Tyler Surnbrock finished off the big inning with a run-scoring single.
Marietta simply could not match the offensive output. It managed only five hits and John Snyder and Tim Saunders accounted for four of those hits.
Kevin Osaki earned the win. He struck out six and allowed only one hit as he kept the Etta Express’ high-powered offense in check,.
Brian Gasser suffered a rare loss for Marietta. He went 4 2.3 innings and gave up eight hits while walking eight batters. Gasser recorded four strikeouts and walked two.