GRAND PRAIRIE, TX. — Eight teams started in Grand Prairie, Texas. Heading into Wednesday, only six remained.
There’s no wiggle room at this point. There’s no pep talk needed. For four of the six teams remaining, the message is a simple one.
Win or go home.
The top of UC San Diego’s lineup made sure that it wasn’t going to be the Tritons, who topped Lindenwood 11-6. Jack Larsen started things off with a record-setting single, setting the UCSD mark for most consecutive games reached at 42. Three more hits and a ground out got three Triton runs across the plate in a hurry.
If the Tritons learned anything from their first two games, it’s that no lead is safe in Grand Prairie.
The Tritons know a lot about leads disappearing at the DII baseball championship. Their first game was lost when a 12th-inning, two-run lead disappeared. They won Tuesday behind a six-run fourth inning comeback.
The top three of the order made sure they kept the peddle to the metal Wednesday, leaving nothing to chance. They led off the game with three straight hits starting a three-run rally and created a two-run rally in the second on three more consecutive hits. They sparked the rally in the sixth as well that led to five runs and officially put the game out of reach.
“It was definitely big,” Larsen said. “I got it going in the first inning and then Brando [Shipley] crushed a double and things just started rolling from there. Hitting was contagious today, we just kept rolling from there.”
Jack Rupe, Jr. wasn't his sharpest for the Tritons on the mound, but he delivered a bulldog effort. The junior right-hander went seven innings, allowing just two of the runs to cross earned.
“I would say it is nervous, but it’s also excitement to be able to go out there and give everything for the team,” Rupe, Jr. said about his big start. “I was able to attack the zone. I didn’t have my best stuff but I was able to work around it. I was pretty tired after the fourth, it’s humid and hot out there. When they scored that last run in third inning, I went up to my catcher and I said, 'we’re not going to give them another run from here on out'. I was able to do that.”
Enough can’t be said about the performance Lindenwood's Connor Law put in out in Grand Prairie. He’ll go home with a loss and high ERA on the stat sheet, but he was the only pitcher to appear in all three of his team’s ball games. He was instrumental in earning Lindenwood its first DII Baseball Championship win ever, and on Wednesday, he threw 3.1 shutout innings and 75 pitches until he ran into the dominant top of UCSD’s lineup.
“We had a decision whether to make him a starter or closer,” Lindenwood head coach Doug Bletcher said. “Not everyone is built to be a closer. Connor has that intestinal fortitude, it’s quite incredible. It would take all day to talk about the situations he’s gotten out of. He’s represented our team as afar as losing not being acceptable. An incredible representative of what it is to be a winner.”
Preseason rank 11 in conference to ending 5th in the nation. This has been an incredible ride with the best group of guys. @LULIONSBASEBALL— Connor Law (@CLawman41) June 1, 2017
UCSD coach Eric Newman has had a heck of a week. First he had twin daughters. He watched his team fight back and fend off elimination twice, picking up his 300th win along the way. He’s even seen his alma mater (Texas Tech) and former school (Dallas Baptist University) earn regional berths while he was back in Texas.
“I’m enjoying it,” Newman said. “I love these guys, I love my family. Don’t give me too much credit. These guys did it. At this point I feel like I’m along for the ride and I’m enjoying it. I’m happy for these guys, my life is good. Not everybody gets to enjoy these moments the way I am. I don’t take that for granted and I’m very thankful.”
Colorado Mesa was on the wrong end of a pitching duel Tuesday night. It lost 3-2 in 10 innings to St. Thomas Aquinas, forcing them to the brink of elimination. Delta State survived elimination behind a dominant pitching performance Tuesday by Tre Hobbs, who hurled a complete game shutout to send North Georgia home.
The two teams engaged in another pitchers' duel Wednesday, getting bailed out by some of the best defensive of the five days in Grand Prairie. Diving stop after diving catch, pickoffs and outfield assists, and double plays saving run after run after run.
Colorado Mesa's Chris Ramirez fearlessly attacked the strize zone all night, needing only 79 pitches to get through his first seven innings. The Statesmen connected, but everywhere they hit them a Maverick was seemingly waiting. It was the start that CMU needed.
"We've seen him do that mutiple times throughout the year," Colorado Mesa head coach Chris Hanks said. "As we got deeper into the year, he continued to get better and we extended his pitch count. We know if he's pitching on the edges and mixing up his curveball and changeup for strikes, it makes it a real difficult night for any offense because of his command and control. As long as the pitch count was reasonable, I think it was going to be his game the way he was pitching."
Kevan Elcock was also what the Mavericks needed. Josh Russell blasted a home run for Delta State in the bottom half of the seventh, cutting Mesa's lead to two late in the game. Elcock gave the Mavericks a big cushion in the eighth, launching a monster shot to deep left field, hitting the netting that protects the restaurant in the left field concourse.
"We had a great at bat right before with Lane [LaCrone] to get runners in scoring position. I was asking our guys, 'what's he throwing first pitch?' I had four guys tell me he was throwing curve ball first pitch. If it wasn't right there I was going to take it, because he wasn't going to beat me with something else. He just left one hanging right there and I put a good swing on it."
The Statesmen made a run in the ninth, but it wasn't enough. They leave Grand Prairie short of their title goals, but they know that a roster full of underclassman has a bright future from the lessons they learned.
"It's always a good felling having those guys come back next year," Russell said. "Don't take credit away from the seniors. They fought for us all year, showed great leadership and taught us the ropes. We're going to do everything we can to come back here next year."
"I hope I come back next year," said Delta State pitcher Peyton White, who made just his second start of the year. "I didn't want to go home, and I know they didn't. It's starting to hit me now. We will be back next year."
The field has been halved. Two teams remain on the brink of elimination, while two remain undefeated.
It has been a fantastic week thus far. What can you expect Thursday from Grand Prairie?
That’s when the fun begins.