Linfield turns tables on Wis.-Stevens Point with late-inning rally for 5-3 win
APPLETON, Wis. -- After watching Wisconsin-Stevens Point stage dramatic comebacks on each of the previous two nights, top-ranked Linfield beat the Pointers at their own game Sunday, mounting a late-inning rally for a 5-3 victory in the DIivision III baseball championship. The Wildcats (41-7) are assured a game on championship day of the DIII finals.
Stevens Point (41-10) now must battle its way through elimination games to get to the championship, beginning with a game against Southern Maine at 1 p.m. ET Monday.
It took a lot of patience, but Linfield’s leadoff man and heart of the order came through in the nick of time against the Pointers. Tim Wilson had only one hit, but it was a triple that knotted the score at three with no outs in the bottom of the eighth. A sacrifice fly from Jake Wylie plated the game-winning run, and Kramer Lindell added some insurance with a two-out single.
"We were hitting the ball hard all game and we knew eventually they’d start falling," Wilson said. "We just needed one guy to get a big hit and then we knew the rally would start."
Despite giving up nine hits and three runs, Zach Brandon pitched seven innings for the Wildcats. Even when the Pointers put him on the ropes -- including a one-out, runners on first and second situation in the top of the seventh -- Brandon worked his way out of trouble with limited damage to keep Linfield within striking distance.
"That was one of the gutsier performances we’ve had this year," Linfield coach Scott Brosius said. "He made some big pitches with guys on base when he needed to. There was nothing easy about what he had to do [Sunday night] and to get us through seven like he did I thought was really huge."
Garett Speyer and Chris Haddeland threw one scoreless inning apiece to close out the game, with Speyer earning his first win and Haddeland taking his second save.
Ben Messenger was effective for Stevens Point through six frames, limiting the 'Cats to just two hits. The freshman right-hander held Linfield scoreless until the seventh, when he gave up two runs, and left the game with the Pointers holding a one-run lead.
"[Messenger] did a really good job commanding pitches and made it real tough on us," Brosius said.
Dan Douglas, Ryan Schilter and Bobby Gregorich supplied two hits each for the Pointers, who came out swinging after digging themselves a couple of early holes in their first two games.
Douglas sent Brandon’s first pitch into right field, and Schilter followed up with a single through the left side that put a runner in scoring position with none out. Douglas moved to third on Sean Gerber’s fly out to center and scored on Jimmy Coady’s sacrifice fly to left.
Messenger shut down the top of the Wildcat order, denying the first five batters he faced before Clayton Truex poked a two-out single to right field. Linfield’s first base runner was left stranded, however, when Messenger got Jordan Harlow to foul out to Gerber at first.
Both pitchers held the opposing offenses in check over the middle innings. After Messenger retired the side in the top of the third, Brandon matched the effort, getting a diving grab from Wilson in left, a strikeout and an easy groundout to first to sit down the Pointers’ 5-6-7 hitters.
Sparked by successive singles from Gregorich and pinch hitter Brandon Kranz, Stevens Point gained some separation from Linfield in the top of the seventh. Rose moved over both runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Douglas’ RBI single up the middle gave the Pointers a 2-0 lead with runners on the corners. After a sacrifice fly from Schilter plated a third run, Stevens Point put another two runners aboard when Gerber drew a walk. Coady almost made Brandon pay dearly for the base on balls with a rocket to right center, but Fisher sprinted to the warning track to snag the fly ball and prevent the Pointers from pulling away.
Lindell got the Linfield offense going in the bottom of the seventh with a one-out single to right field, and Truex brought him home with a double off the left-field wall. Truex advanced to third on a wild pitch, and nearly scored when the throw from Schilter to Spetz went astray, but got tripped up by the bag and stayed on the far corner. Harlow plated him anyway with a sacrifice fly to right field that brought the 'Cats back to within one.
"Up to that point, it had been a rarity to have a guy on second base, just a base hit away from scoring," Truex said. "It was great to know that when we had our opportunities we took advantage."
Speyer took over for Brandon to start the eighth, and immediately set up a groundout to third for an easy out. Spetz reached during the next at-bat on a fielding error -- Linfield’s fifth of the tournament -- but Corey VanDomelen snagged Gregorich’s line drive and relayed to first for a key double play.
Messenger’s final pitch of the game nailed Michael Hopp, which put the game-tying run on base with no outs. Wilson took a couple of pitches to size up reliever Tyler Flood before drilling a triple to right field that scored Hopp and knotted the score at 3-3.
After getting an out, the Pointers intentionally walked Fisher. Wylie’s fly ball to right gave Wilson plenty of time to tag up and touch home. In addition to giving Linfield its first scoring advantage of the game, the play was also momentum-changing in that throw from the outfield did not cut off Fisher, who advanced to second. With another runner in scoring position, Lindell came through with another big hit, a two-out single to left field, to plate Fisher.
The coaching staff called upon its ace, Haddeland, who had thrown seven innings in Linfield’s tournament-opening win against Ithaca. The sophomore righty set up a fly ball and groundout before recording his 10th strikeout of the tournament that ended the game.
"There's no script," Brosius said. "We know these games are 27 outs and it doesn’t end until there’s 27 outs."