|by Brent Harris • April 30, 2011|
Wabash claimed its first-ever North Coast Athletic Conference baseball title Saturday with a 5-2 victory over Ohio Wesleyan.
View photos from the team's win and the post-game celebration here.
Chris Widup worked 8-1/3 strong innings on the mound while the Little Giant offense scored five first-inning runs in the win. Luke Zinsmaster came on in the ninth inning in relief of Widup, closing out the game with a strikeout to give the Wabash the title.
The conference title is the first for the Wabash baseball team since joining the NCAC in 2000 and is the first overall conference tournament title since the Little Giants won the 1998 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. With the victory, Wabash earns the conference's automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA Division III baseball tournament. The Little Giants will be appearing in the tournament for the first time in school history.
"This is really exciting," Head Coach Cory Stevens said. "We've got a great group of guys who have battled throughout the season. Everything came together at the right time. We've peaked at the right time. We've tried to stack our schedule with great competition from the beginning of our schedule to the end, and it's really paid off.
"This is such a great step for this program. Everyone who has played baseball is a part of this, not just the guys on our roster right now. Wabash baseball has taken this one step at a time over the years, and now to break through with this NCAC championship and to earn the school's first NCAA tournament berth is gratifying."
The Little Giants are the first team other than Wooster or Ohio Wesleyan — two of the four teams, along with Wittenberg, to play in this year's Tournament — to win the NCAC baseball championship. Wooster had claimed back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 as part of 13 total championships. Ohio Wesleyan has won the baseball title 10 times, most recently in 2007 and 2008. Allegheny is the only school to win an NCAC baseball championship. The Gators claimed outright titles in 1993, 1997, and 1999 in addition to tying Wooster for the first conference championship in 1985.
Wabash will find out what team it will play and which regional the Little Giants will be sent to on Monday, May 16. The first games of regional play will take place on Wednesday, May 18. Wabash could be sent to regionals at Illinois Wesleyan, Wisconsin-Whitewater, or Marietta, Ohio.
Widup retired all three Ohio Wesleyan batters with strikeouts in the first inning, part of eight total strikeouts in the game for the sophomore righthander. The Battling Bishops hit a solo homer in the third inning and another in the eighth inning for their only runs of the game. Widup scattered five other OWU hits in the game. The only other threat he faced in the game came with two outs in the second inning when a single to left by Nathan Strome brough Tim Knezovich to the plate. However, Wabash leftfielder Montana Timmons threw out Knezovich trying to score to end the inning.
The Little Giants opened the first inning with an infield single by Chris Deig. An error on a ground ball by John Pennington put runners on first second, leading to two runs on a Timmons double down the left field line. Tanner Coggins followed with the third hit of the inning to put runners on the corners. PJ Tyson's RBI single scored Timmons and set up a two-run double by Joe Johnson when the senior blasted a pitch to the left-center field wall.
The five runs would prove to be all Widup needed to record his fifth victory of the season.
Wabash advanced to the tournament championship game as the number three seed. The Little Giants opened with a 17-9 victory against Ohio Wesleyan on Thursday night, followed by a 3-2 win Friday against top-seeded Wooster to earn the berth in the championship game.
John Holm was named the 2011 Tournament MVP. Joining him on the All-Tournament team were Johnson, Timmons, Widup, and Robby Hechinger.