What a way to kick off the 2016 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals. The eight regional champions took to the field for day one of competition on Saturday, and they did not disappoint. Four one-run games, three walk-off wins, two extra-inning affairs, and one incredible day of baseball opened up national finals play.
Millersville - 1
Angelo State - 0
W: Miller (12-1), L: Zak (9-3)
Things to started with a bang in the first game of the tournament. Brandon Miller, one of the nation's best, twirled a five-hit shutout with eight strikeouts and one walk en route to the complete game victory.
The only run of the contest game in the seventh inning, when Millersville got a one-out single from Jeremy Musser, a stolen base, a hit-by-pitch to put two on, a groundout to move both runners in to scoring position, and a walk to load the bases. All it then took to score the run was a wild pitch.
A heartbreaking way to decide a game, obviously, but when you have a pair of pitchers like Miller and Zak dueling it out, that is all it takes sometimes.
Cal Poly Pomona - 2
Southern Indiana - 1
W: Alsworth (7-2), L: Decker (2-1)
The first comeback of the tournament occurred here, as the Broncos of CPP scored single runs in the bottom of the ninth and bottom of the 10th to steal victory away from USI.
The Screaming Eagles got on the board first in the top of the eighth with a one-out walk by Kyle Niemeier, a stolen base, and an RBI single from Sam Griggs.
The theatrics that would become a common theme throughout the rest of the day began in the bottom of the ninth for CPP. Jason Padlo and Nic Hernandez led off the inning with consecutive singles, but USI's T.J. Decker got a pop up and a fly out to put USI only an out away from winning. Cody Martin, however, laced a single through the left side of the infield that tied the game.
In the 10th, USI went three-up-three-down, while CPP kept the momentum going. Jared James notched a lead-off single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, and after an intentional walk, Padlo came to the plate again and singled back up the middle to score James from second and win the game for CPP, as they remain undefeated in postseason play.
Nova Southeastern - 4
Franklin Pierce - 3
W: Raftery (1-1); L: Matarazzo (11-1)
This was an absolutely bananas game.
The Sharks of NSU struck in the bottom of the first inning with a two-RBI single from Daniel Zardon after a fielding error by FPU extended the inning, while ace pitcher Alex Mateo rolled through the first three innings. In the fourth, however, things started getting sloppy for the Sharks. After a lead-off walk in the top of the fourth, a fielding error allowed Jay Jabs to reach, and a bunt single loaded the bases with nobody out. A sacrifice fly made it a 2-1 game, and another sacrifice fly from the next hitter tied the game at two.
The scoring remained stagnant until the top of the seventh, when the Ravens took their first lead of the game. Catcher Stephen Octave doubled to center field, and then moved to third when an errant pick-off throw to second got away. After a groundout, Maxx Sheehan came to the plate and singled in to left field to make it a 3-2 FPU lead.
Yet again, bottom of the ninth theatrics were coming. In the bottom of the frame for the Sharks, Sebastian Diaz led off with a walk, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After a passed ball moved him to third, Jancarlos Cintron walked to put runners on the corners with one out. Following a pitching change, Kevin Suarez struck out to put the Sharks down to their last out, but Andres Visbal came up clutch, crushing a line drive back up the middle to tie the game at three.
Meanwhile, NSU ace-relief pitcher Devin Raftery was rolling through the Ravens' lineup. One of the nation's best closers, Raftery worked *five* shutout innings in relief. It all culminated in the bottom of the 12th, when NSU's Kavan Thompson was hit with a pitch to lead off the frame, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, moved to third on a two-out wild pitch, and came in to score when Cintron hit an RBI single in to left field to bring in the winning run.
Lost in the shuffle of this amazing game was FPU's Tanner Bird, who threw 5.1 innings of shutout relief after starter Paul Covelle was pulled after allowing six hits in two innings. Bird struck out five, walked one and allowed three hits, but gave his team the chance to come back and take the lead.
Lander - 4
Central Missouri - 3
W: White (4-2); L: Muehlberger (1-1)
Much like game three, game four followed the same type of script. Lander took the lead right off the bat in the bottom of the first, quite literally, as Zach Daly hit the first home run of the tournament with a fly ball that snuck just inside the right field foul pole to give the Bearcats a 1-0 advantage.
UCM answered in the top of the third with a two-out rally to tie the game back up at one. Dylan Farrell singled, then came around to score on a Jake Alexander single that got booted in the outfield and allowed both runners to advance two extra bases.
The score would stay knotted at 1-1 until the top of the eighth inning, when the Mules would take a 2-1 lead. After a lead-off single, Farrell got in to the middle of things yet again. Farrell laid down a bunt, and Lander catcher John Mangum unleashed a poor throw to first, allowing both runners to advance, putting men on second and third with nobody out. After a strikeout, Mangum was charged with a passed ball, but had an opportunity to cut the runner down at home. His throw to the pitcher covering the plate was high, however, allowing UCM to take a 2-1 lead. After a walk, relief pitcher Andrew Reardon induced a pop-up to end the inning.
I say all that about Mangum, because in the bottom of the eighth, he more than redeemed himself. After a two-out walk, Mangum came to the plate and blasted a go-ahead two-run shot over the left field wall to give the Bearcats a 3-2 lead heading in to the final frame.
The action couldn't stop there, obviously. In the top of the ninth, the Mules staged a rally against one of the top closers in the country in Brandon White. A lead-off single started the frame, but White got a strikeout on the next hitter, After allowing another single to put runners on the corners, UCM tried a squeeze play and it worked to perfection, as White was unable to field the ball cleanly in front of the mound and off to the third-base side, allowing the Mules to tie the game, 3-3. After a wild pitch put two runners in to scoring position with only one out, White buckled down and got a pop-up and strikeout to end the inning and keep the game tied.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Bearcats continued the crazy endings we got in the two games prior. A lead off walk, wild pitch, and groundout put Gatlin Minick at third for the Bearcats with one out. Will Jones then came to the plate and crushed a game-winning hit over the left fielder's head to hand the Bearcats the 4-3 victory.
With all that said, we head to day two of the national finals on Monday. Sunday's games were moved to Saturday after a tropical storm developed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolinas, and Sunday turned in to an off day with the rain making landfall. As such, Monday's schedule is as follows:
Game Five (Elimination Game)
Angelo State (39-21) vs Southern Indiana (37-20)
Monday, May 30th, 1:00 p.m. Eastern
One team will be leaving Cary after the first game on Monday, as the first elimination game occurs between the 2014 national champions and a team making their second consecutive trip to the national finals. Either way, we are going to lose a great team.
We are anticipating a match-up between USI's Lucas Barnett (7-5, 4.02 ERA) or Austin Krizan (4-1, 3.66 ERA) and Angelo's Matt Shannon (7-5, 2.90 ERA). The match-up would lean slightly in favor of Angelo, but as we mentioned before, USI's lineup contains a host of experience and success. No matter what, this should be a very well-played and close game.
Millersville (51-5) vs Cal Poly Pomona (41-17)
Monday, May 30th, 5:00 p.m. Eastern
In the winner's bracket game on Monday, we have a pretty good clashing of opposite styles. Millersville, the high-octane offense, will be going up against Pomona's stout pitching staff in what should be yet another well-played game.
It is anyone's guess as to who will be out on the mound for each team. Millersville has at their disposal Cordell Shannon (8-1, 2.96 ERA), Jim McDade (11-0, 3.02 ERA) and Reid Anderson (8-1, 4.12 ERA), while Pomona will be picking from Max Bethell (10-4, 2.45 ERA), Tyler Rowe (4-1, 4.44 ERA) or Peter Bayer (1-2, 4.99 ERA). With neither team having a loss yet, I wouldn't be surprised to see them go a little deeper than their #2's in to the rotation and save their best for a must-win situation.