Coast to coast
Wildcats of Oregon outduel Huskies from Maine in title bout
APPLETON, Wis. -- Purple caps and leather baseball gloves littered the infield as Linfield players celebrated their 2013 NCAA Division III Championship at Fox Cities Stadium on Tuesday.
Head coach Scott Brosius and his staff participated in a group hug near the third base line, not allowing the cool, wet weather to dampen their excitement.
Tuesday’s 4-1 victory against Southern Maine had delivered Linfield’s first NCAA title and its third national title overall. The Wildcats had won NAIA titles in 1966 and 1971.
“There are people that have been in this game a long, long time that never got this opportunity, never got to sit here,” Brosius said during a postgame press conference. “So this is special.”
Sophomore starter Chris Haddeland was the key, throwing a one-run, complete game. He finished 15-1, while Linfield ended the year 42-8. Southern Maine went 46-10.
Shaky only in the first, when he surrendered the Huskies’ lone run, Haddeland found his rhythm and settled in. Southern Maine hardly touched him afterward.
“They’re a good team,” he said. “They’re in the championship game of the NCAA tournament so they’re going to get their shot. I lost a couple balls up right at the beginning. That first hit that was a double, was a fastball up. I just had to focus on getting the ball down.”
Meanwhile, his teammates broke through against Southern Maine starter Andrew Richards in the bottom of the fourth, scoring everything the Wildcats would need. The big blow was a small one, a bunt from senior Kyle Chamberland that scored the Wildcats’ second run, which turned out to be the game-winner.
“I had a lot of confidence in our guys,” Haddeland said. “I felt good about everything. I just knew I had to throw strikes and they’d take care of the rest.”
“We came close to getting them in the first inning and then they had the big fourth inning,” Southern Maine head coach Ed Flaherty said. “And the kid Haddeland, he’s a first-time All-American and there’s a reason for it. He kept us off-balance, got some big double plays when it counted. The kid’s good.”
Southern Maine played with a disadvantage, having to beat Ithaca in Tuesday’s earlier, 13-inning play-in game for the right to face Linfield for the title. Somehow, it seemed poetic. The two teams on opposite coasts — Linfield from Oregon and Southern Maine from Down East — had played earlier in the five-day tournament, a 10-1 victory by Linfield on Saturday that had propelled the Huskies to the elimination bracket.
“When you gotta come through the losers’ bracket, it makes it that much harder ... but it was a great run by us,” Flaherty said. “I’m very proud of my kids.”
Richards, who’d pitched 12 innings of relief against Ithaca, started against Linfield because of ongoing injury issues for the Southern Maine pitching staff. It wasn’t a bad call. Sharp against Ithaca, he hung in against Linfield, finally losing his edge in the four-run fourth.
“I felt good through the first three innings,” Richards said. “They had a few breaks, a few bloop hits — a bunt with the bases loaded which I’ve never seen before. I don’t know. I wasn’t really expecting that. They played a great game. Linfield’s a good team. We left it on the field.”
For Brosius, a Linfield alumnus, Tuesday’s championship tasted as sweet as the 1998, 1999 and 2000 World Series titles he won as a member of the New York Yankees. The Most Valuable Player for the 1998 Series, he witnessed his young pitcher, Haddeland, win a similar honor on Tuesday, for the DIII championship.
“This ranks up there, believe me,” Brosius said. “This is special. You win as a professional and certainly there is a part of that that you carry with you. That is a special deal. But this is about more than just me, this about more than us. This is a college campus, a community. This is a big deal.”