May 31, 2010

Bryan Rose, Special to

GRAND CHUTE, Wis. -- Illinois Wesleyan came to the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship with a record just six games over .500 and with 20 losses. They will leave the College World Series with no worse than a second-place trophy.

The Titans earned a spot in Tuesday's championship game after defeating Linfield, 4-3, on Sunday.

"Unbelievable," Illinois Wesleyan coach Dennis Martel said about his team's win. "I have said it all year, this team is unbelievable."

Martel and the Titans, however, got behind early as Linfield, which came into the game having scored 37 runs in its first two contests, scored three runs in the first 5 ¬Ĺ innings to take a 3-1 lead. Kelson Brown hit a solo home run in the top of the sixth to cap Linfield's scoring.

But in the bottom of the sixth, the Titans took advantage of an error by Linfield that opened up a big inning for Illinois Wesleyan. The Wildcats came into the championships as the top fielding team in the nation. "It was a little uncharacteristic for sure," Linfield coach Scott Brosius said about his team committing four errors in the game. "The timing of [the errors] was a little tough."

Following the error, the Titans moved the runner to third and then rattled off three straight RBI singles, capped by Zach Scott's hit to the left side to give Illinois Wesleyan the 4-3 lead.

"Like coach says, an error always leads to a big inning," said Illinois Wesleyan's Jeff Gordecki, who had one of the RBI singles. "We needed to make it hurt." That would be all Titan relief pitcher Joe Froelich would need as he retired nine of the next 10 Linfield batters.

Froelich came into the game in the third inning in relief of Illinois Wesleyan starter Paul Kabbes.

"I thought a change of pace would be effective," Martel said of making the switch early in the game. "Joe is one of those soft throwing lefties. He gets out in front of batters. He nickel and dimes you."

Froelich earned the win, throwing seven innings and allowing one run on seven hits while striking out six.

Linfield's Brown led all batters going 3-for-4 with three RBI, while the Wildcats Tyson Smith also had a three-hit night.

Reese McCulley threw a complete game in the loss, allowing two earned runs on eight hits. He struck out six and walked just one.

Illinois Wesleyan has earned a spot in Tuesday's championship game but will face SUNY Cortland in the play back game on Monday at 4:30 p.m. If Cortland wins that game, the Red Dragons will face the winner of Linfield-Heidelberg game on Tuesday for the right to play Illinois Wesleyan in the championship. If the Titans win on Monday, they will face the Linfield-Heidelberg winner Tuesday with two chances to win the title because of the double elimination format.

"We want to win tomorrow," Martel said. "If we win that game tomorrow, then they have to beat us twice."

Linfield will face Heidelberg at 1 p.m. on Monday in the elimination game with the winner facing the winner of the Illinois Wesleyan-Cortland game.