got a chance at redemption. However, the result wasn’t what the Lyons had desired.
One day after the Marietta College baseball team downed Wheaton 6-5, the Lyons got another shot at the defending Division III national champions in the title game. Marietta -- the top-rated team in the nation entering the tournament -- scored four runs in the first two innings and used a strong pitching performance from Brian Gasser to earn a 7-2 Wednesday afternoon at Fox Cities Stadium.
Marietta (48-8) becomes the first team to repeat as national champion since 1979. It’s Marietta’s sixth national title in program history.
“As much as you don’t want to say it, today was Marietta’s day,” Wheaton coach Eric Podbelski said. “They’re a very good baseball team. I have respect for what they’ve accomplished. I have respect for how they played today. I have respect for how they carry themselves. I’m proud of our guys beyond belief. We just ran into a team that was very good and played the game as well as you can play it today. They earned the win.”
In Wheaton’s only other trip to the Division III national championships in 2006, it fell to Marietta in the title game.
After losing a game on the second day of the tournament, Marietta had to win four straight elimination games to take the national title. The players had their backs against the wall and responded on the biggest stage.
“I don’t know that many groups could have done it,” Marietta coach Brian Brewer said. “But these guys, just the heart and the character and the will that they showed, and it goes back to the preparation. … Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. I think we all agree here. Winning back-to-back national championships is probably a close second.”
After scoring a single run in the first inning, Marietta got its bats going in the second. Bryan Gregorich and Kirby Becker each ripped RBI singles and Aaron Hopper, who finished with three runs batted in, produced a run-scoring sacrifice fly to make it 4-0.
Climbing out of a four-run hole after two innings isn’t easy, especially in the national championship game. However, the Wheaton players knew there was plenty of time to get back in the game.
“I think we all had faith,” Wheaton left fielder John Keating said. “We’ve come back from being down like that this year and that’s why we’re such a good team.”
Wheaton (41-11) had a tough time figuring out Marietta pitcher Brian Gasser. After throwing four innings of shutout ball, Gasser walked Apolinar De La Cruz to start the fifth inning. The next hitter Dan Gusovsky laced an RBI double to left to score De La Cruz to get within 4-1.
Lyons starting pitcher Alec Palioca gave up a fifth-inning run before getting pulled in favor of Frank Holbrook. Palioca went 4 2/3 innings and gave up four earned runs on eight hits.
Marietta tallied another run in the bottom of sixth to start to get some distance at 6-1. Gusovsky led off Wheaton’s seventh with his second double of the day. After a sacrifice bunt moved Gusovsky to third, John Keating got an RBI on a groundout to make it 6-2. The Pioneers tacked on another run in the seventh to mount a 7-2 advantage.
Wheaton had one last shot, loading the bases with just one out in the eighth, but Gasser struck out De La Cruz and got Gusovsky to line out. That put the Lyons away.
“It was a little bit of the story of the game,” said Podbelski about his team’s inability to score in the eighth inning. “They were able to find some holes in some big situations and some RBI spots. … We had a couple situations where I felt we were rallying.”
Wheaton, the No. 9-ranked team in the country, had its chances, stranding seven runners.
“Couple more hits here and there fall, it could have been a different game,” Keating said. “It just wasn’t our day.”
Gasser picked up the victory, going eight strong innings and allowed just two earned runs and scattering eight hits. Keating said Gasser mixed up his pitches, changed speeds and had good location.
Wheaton’s Sean Ryan, a Norton native, finished the day 2-for-4. Hal Landers and Gusovsky each went 2-for-4, as well. Wheaton’s Kevin Foley and Frank Holbrook were named to the all-tournament team, while Marietta’s Tim Saunders earned MVP honors.
The Wheaton players said they can look back and be happy with the season as a whole after placing runner-up out of 364 Division III schools nationwide.
“Ideally, you want the national championship -- that’s what everybody plays for,” Wheaton senior pitcher David Longley said. “Coach has always said it to us, ‘Only one team finishes the season with a win.’ That’s just the reality of a baseball season. I think, yes, we can be very proud as individuals and as a team because we’ve come a long way.”
Podbelski was pleased with the play of his athletes, but knows there is some unfinished business.
“As a competitor, player, coach, whatever, you never strive for anything less than all you can get, and the quest continues,” Podbelski said.