Not going home just yet
Texas-Tyler bottom of lineup rises to the top to keep Patriots in
“It’s a one through nine game,” Texas-Tyler head coach Mike Reed explained.
The No. 9 spot in his lineup came up big with their backs against the ropes in an elimination game at the NCAA Division III national finals to keep their championship hopes alive.
Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, Texas-Tyler had runners on second and third with one out and the No. 9 spot in the order coming up. Reed brought in pinch hitter Whitney Burt to hit for outfielder Carli Wheeler.
The 5’2 sophomore stood as the shortest player on the field, but delivered the biggest blow of the game with a three-run shot over the left field wall lifting the Patriots to a 3-2 lead.
“[Burt] has come through for us a lot,” Reed continued. “She does a good job when called upon.”
It was Burt’s first career home run on a team that ranks seventh in the nation in long balls. The Patriots had hit 41 home runs up to that point, with Burt always the first one out to meet her teammate for the home plate celebration. This time she finally got her chance to be the one trotting home from third.
“It felt awesome,” Burt said with a smile, “for my first home run to come in the [national finals]”.
After a break in the action for a pitching change, senior Joey Cronin followed suit with a solo shot to left field for back-to-back home runs and giving Tyler their first lead of the tournament 4-3.
“How could you not hit a home run after that?” Cronin said of the back-to-back home runs.
When speaking about Burt’s home run, both Cronin and senior outfielder Wheeler agreed, “It couldn’t have happened to a better person.”
Wheeler started in left field and was in the nine slot, when Burt pinch hit for her in the fifth. Wheeler re-entered in the top of the sixth and came up with a big at bat of her own.
With the game knotted at 4-4 in extra-innings, Wheeler came up with runners on first and second and two outs. The senior wasn’t ready for her career to end, as she delivered the game-winning hit, scoring Heather Abshire from second allowing Tyler to walk-off with a 5-4 win in eight innings.
“I went up their knowing my team did everything they could,” Wheeler stated, “[Abshire] started off by beating out the ball hit in the infield and then we got her over. I just tried to put anything in play and give us an opportunity to score.”
Wheeler’s ninth RBI of the season kept the Patriots season alive.
“It did cross my mind that this could be the end of my senior season,” Wheeler continued, “I wanted to keep it alive not just for the seniors, but for the whole team.”
Reed stated about the game-winning hit from Wheeler, “Nobody works harder and deserves it more.”
The Patriots are the best hitting club in the tournament with a team average of .360. With nine hitters batting above .300 and five different players with at least five home runs the Patriots rely on their offense to win games.
Everyone. One through nine.