May 29, 2010

Harold Gutmann, NCAA.com

CARY, N.C. -- Trevor Leach and Dan Marcacci were handed four-game suspensions for hitting batters after being warned in the regional final, but it might as well have been for the season.

Without two of its best pitchers, No. 9 Southern Indiana would have to advance to the Division II National Baseball Championship game for the first time -- and lose once along the way -- for Leach and Marcacci to take the ball again. But that's exactly what the Screaming Eagles did. And facing top-ranked UC San Diego in the final, the well-rested pair completed an incredible story.

Leach pitched the first seven innings and Marcacci sealed the program's first national championship with a 6-4 victory over the Tritons at the USA Baseball National Training Complex. Leach (12-1) allowed three runs and seven hits.

"This is a dream come true," said Leach, who improved to 24-2 with Southern Indiana. "Growing up, everyone dreams about winning a national championship, and I was just fortunate enough to pitch in it."

Marcacci, the team's No. 3 starter, got the final six outs.

"This is amazing," the junior said. "For me and Leach to have to sit through four games there, we finally got our shot and came through, and the rest of the team did a heck of a job helping us get there."

It was the second team championship for Southern Indiana (52-14), which won the men's basketball title in 1995. "Amazing. I don't know what more to say," coach Tracy Archuleta said.

"I told them at the regional when we played Grand Valley State, we can come back and we're going to make it a story. And, wow, what a story they made it. The adversity they came through ... I couldn't be prouder."

Todd Martin hit a two-run double in Southern Indiana's three-run second inning, and Brad Vance had a two-run single in the fourth inning to extend the lead.

It was the second appearance in the national tournament for the Eagles, who lost in the 2007 semifinals. The Tritons (54-8) made the semifinals last year in their first national tournament appearance.

Leach ended up with a storybook comeback, but he almost didn't make it past the first inning.

No. 2 hitter Kyle Saul sent Leach's fourth pitch over the wall in left-center for his eighth home run of the season. The next three batters also reached when Aaron Bauman walked, Brandon Gregorich singled and Evan Kehoe hit an RBI double.

With two runs already in, UCSD had runners on second and third with just one out. But Leach escaped without further damage.

"Maybe (I was) a little too rested," Leach joked. "Emotions were high coming into the ballgame. I hadn't pitched in 13 days. We finally got through it, and our hitters put up a three-spot (in the second inning) and took a lot of weight off my shoulders. I knew they were going to swing it behind me, and we just kept competing."

The Tritons had the nation's highest fielding percentage (.984) for the third straight year. But they committed two errors in the second inning to help the Screaming Eagles take the lead.

After Caleb Ehmke walked, Adam Enright bunted and starter Tim Shibuya (13-3) threw the ball into center field trying to get the lead runner. Then, with the bases loaded and one out, Vance grounded to third base.

Kehoe stepped on the bag for one out, but his throw to first was high, allowing Ehmke to score and the inning to continue. Martin, the No. 9 hitter, made UCSD pay with his two-run double over the third base bag to give the Eagles a 3-2 lead.

"If this morning you told me we were going to make two errors and walk two guys in one inning, I wouldn't have believed it," UCSD coach Dan O'Brien said. "We just picked a bad day to have some uncharacteristic mistakes."

Vance, the No. 8 hitter, extended the lead in the fourth. He hit an 0-2 pitch to right-center for a two-out, two-run single, making the score 5-2.

Tritons reliever Guido Knudson, who pitched 4 2/3 innings and earned the win in Thursday's semifinal, was given the ball with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth and struck out Enright.

But the Eagles got another run in the seventh when Martin worked a leadoff walk and eventually scored on a balk by Knudson. That extra run came in handy when UCSD threatened in the eighth inning. Gregorich doubled to lead off, ending Leach's day and bringing in Marcacci. Gregorich scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Susdorf, and the Tritons eventually brought the tying run to the plate for Bryan Knapp, who was 9-for-14 this season. Marcacci struck out Knapp, and after Blake Tagmyer's RBI single made it 6-4, Vance Albitz grounded out to end the inning.

Eight players got hits for the Tritons, but that didn't include Albitz, who was seventh in career hits in Division II but went 0-for-5 Saturday.

Gregorich, who finished the season batting .452, got his third hit of the game on a two-out single in the ninth, but Kehoe flied out to right to end the season.

"Congratulations to Southern Indiana and coach Archuleta," O'Brien said. "He did an incredible job getting his team to the final game, and they had a courageous team."