May 28, 2010

By Bryan Rose
Special to

GRAND CHUTE, WIS. -- The SUNY Cortland Red Dragons did not get off to a good start but lucky for them, it is not how you start but how you finish that counts.

The Red Dragons (37-8-1) found themselves down 7-1 after three innings, but scored five runs in the last two to defeat the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (33-17), 9-8, Friday in the first game of the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships.

"We never got down," Cortland catcher Anderson Gardner said. "Our offense has done it all year long."

The game started auspiciously for the Red Dragons and starting pitcher Travis Ratliff. Ratliff hit the first batter which later led to the Pointers' first run of the game. Ratliff was later left the game because of a blister developing on his throwing hand.

"It was an unfortunate situation," Cortland coach Joe Brown said of Ratliff lasting just two innings. "But our [relief] pitching kept us in the game."

Cortland countered in the bottom of the first as Gardner singled in a run to knot the game at 1-all. But Stevens Point took control of the game early scoring four runs in the second, including a bases-clearing double by Sam Spurney.

In the third, the Pointers added two more runs as on a groundout and a Brad Archambeau single to right field.

The turning point in the game, though, came in the fourth when Red Dragon reliever Adam Brown held the Pointers scoreless, swinging the momentum in favor of Cortland. In the bottom of the inning, Cortland got the bats going when Khyle Dimino single that scored two runs and cut the Steven Point lead to 7-3.

Cortland added another run in the fifth, but the Pointers added an insurance run in the sixth to make the score 8-4 after six innings.

That would be all Stevens Point could muster, however, as the Red Dragon pitching staff kept them off balance and the Pointers stranded 15 runners in the game.

"That was a major issue," Pointers' coach Pat Bloom said. "We scored eight runs but anyone in our dugout knows that number should have been much higher."

One reason for the Pointers' troubles was the way the Red Dragons used their pitchers. "It was frustrating," Spurney said. "They kept switching from lefties and righties. But on every opportunity you have to cash in."

Cortland cashed in on their opportunities later in the game as they scored three runs in the eighth. After issuing a leadoff walk, Pointers' starting pitcher Joel Delorit was lifted for a relief pitcher. Delorit finished the game with seven innings pitched, allowing four earned runs on seven hits.

The Red Dragons took advantage as Steve Nickel hit an RBI triple and later scored on a groundout to second. Cortland cut the lead to 8-7 as the Pointers walked in a run. A line drive doubleplay to third ended the Cortland threat.

In the ninth, the Red Dragons finished the comeback. With a runner on third, Jason Simone tied the game with an RBI single up the box. Cortland loaded the bases and with two out, John Zilnicki singled to right field to end the game and send Red Dragons to the winner's bracket.

"The at-bats we had down the stretch, we had a lot of confidence," Zilnicki said.

Cortland will face the UMass-Boston vs. Linfield winner at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, while Stevens Point will play the loser of that game at 10 a.m.