Winona State

CARY, N.C. -- Kyle Sill dislocated his thumb when a ball popped off of it early in the action of an NCAA Division II finals game against Southern Connecticut State Thursday night.

But the sophomore catcher wasn’t going to let a little pain keep him from helping Winona State earn a spot in its first national championship game.

The Warriors had come too far to fall short of the title game, and by the time the night was over, Sill had tallied two hits and drove in two runs in a 7-5 victory on a picture-perfect evening at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

Winona State (42-17) moves on to play West Florida in a winner takes all title game at noon Saturday. Sill is thrilled about the opportunity ahead and proved once again that there is no gain without a little pain.

“The ball caught the top of my thumb and I definitely dislocated it,” Sill said. “I had to get it put back in. It was tough to deal with but I fought through it.”

Sill came into this game batting .373 and had knocked in only 19 runs on the season. But he was ready to deliver when his team needed him most.

There was the clutch single to center in the second inning that got the Warriors on the board for the first time in the game. Winona State had fallen behind 4-0 but Sill helped fuel a rally that would leave the score tied at 4-4 at the end of two innings.

Sill would step up again in the fifth, drilling a single to left that put the Warriors in front to stay at 6-5. Sill finished his night with two hits, two RBI and two runs scored.

“Kyle did a great job,” Poock said. “He has stepped in and has really come up with big hits. He did it again tonight.”

Sill played in only 13 games as a freshman, starting five times, but has played a more prominent role on the team this year. He has started 31 of the 36 games the Warriors have played and has played well behind the plate, racking up 151 put-outs while committing only one error.

“It’s been a lot of fun playing this year,” Sill said. “I just tried to put the ball in play and it worked out well. I’ve been hitting the ball well all season. It feels good to win this game.”

The Warriors finished with 13 hits and John Wenker nailed down the win, his seventh of the season, as he worked five innings and did not give up a run. He allowed three hits and struck out three.

The Owls (45-9-1) ended the night with 13 hits. Five different players had two hits, including A.J. Rouleau, who cranked out two hits and drove in two runs.

When Winona State fell behind 4-0 in the first inning, Poock said there wasn’t really any concern among the players.

“We didn’t panic,” Poock said. “It’s a nine-inning game and we knew we had plenty of time to get back in it. We battled hard, had guys come up with big hits and came up with a win.”

Sill is thrilled that Winona State will have a chance to bring home a title. It would be an impressive accomplishment when one considers that the Warriors didn’t even win their own conference tournament.

All of that doesn’t matter at this point. The Warriors, in the national tourney for the first time in school history, have a chance to punctuate this historic season with a trophy.

“It’s been a great ride and it’s awesome that we get a chance to play for the championship,” Sill said. “I feel like we are confident and we will have a chance if we play our best baseball.”