Spartans Become Back-To-Back-To-Back NAC Tourney Champs
FOND DU LAC, Wis. -- In nail-biting fashion, the Aurora University Spartans (D3baseball.com #19) captured the 2012 Northern Athletics Conference tournament championship defeating Concordia University Chicago Cougars 6-5 in 10 innings Saturday afternoon in Fond du Lac, Wis.
In winning the third straight NAC tournament championship, AU will advance to play in the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships for the third consecutive season and 20th in the 30 years AU has been an NCAA institution.
AU won the game in the bottom of the 10th inning on a one-out double to right center field by junior catcher Ryan McMahon that scored junior outfielder Mike Foley with the winning run. Foley had reached to start the inning with an infield single and moved to scoring position on a bunt basehit by senior outfielder Josh Davidson which set up the game winner.
The Spartans fell behind early to the Cougars as Concordia scored one run off AU starting pitcher Steve Sitterly in the top of the first inning. Senior outfielder Ryan Adams kept Concordia from a bigger inning as he threw out a Cougar baserunner at the plate with McMahon making the tag on Concordia's catcher Nick Skala.
AU would respond and take the lead back in the bottom of the second inning off Concordia starting pitcher Kurt Kempema. The trio of Foley, Davidson and McMahon combined for the first time in the second inning with Foley singling and moving to second on the first of two bunt basehits on the day for Davidson. Both moved up a base on a passed ball and then scored on a single to center by McMahon.
Concordia would answer back immediately in the top of the third, scoring three runs on four hits and exploiting a big Spartan error. With two-outs and two on, Skala singled to center to score the first run of the inning for the Cougars. Sitterly looked to get out of the inning with no more damege as he got a fly ball to left field that Davidson was camped underneath. But Davidson would misplay the ball at the last second allowing one Cougar to score for a 3-2 lead. Following a basehit to right by the next Cougar hitter, the visitors held a 4-2 lead.
The Cougars would maintain the 4-2 lead into the fifth inning and looked like they would add to the lead. Sitterly gave up three singles with one-out to load the bases and was lifted for junior relief pitcher Kevin Day. Day came on and worked out of the jam with a pop-out to senior shortstop Bobby Wilson and a line-out to Foley in right.
AU would take the momentum from Day's quick relief work in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring three runs of their own to take a 5-4 lead. Senior Tim Mackey led off with a walk and scored on a double by freshman second baseman Carlos Olivarria. Olavarria moved to third when senior first baseman Brett Van Asdlen reached on an error by the Cougar third baseman and then scored on a single by junior designated hitter Cory Walden. Van Asdlen later scored on a single by Davidson.
The Spartans and Day mowed through the Cougar hitters over the next two and one-third innings before a pinch-hit double gave the visitors some life in the eighth inning. A single and fielder's choice (Foley threw out a base-runner at second base on a ball hit to right field) tied the game 5-5 and after a walk put Cougars on first and second, AU Head Coach
Shaun Neitzel went back to his bullpen, bringing on junior Tom Ozlanski to face the heart of the Concordia order. Ozlanski hit his first batter he faced to load the bases for Skala, the Cougar clean-up hitter. Ozlanski got Skala to fly out to center to end the inning and the big scoring chance.
Concordia relief pitcher Tim Milroy held down the Spartans in the bottom of the eighth. Milroy came on in the sixth inning for the Cougars and seemed to have his way with the Spartan bats.
Ozlanski put a scare into the Spartan fans in attendance and gave the Concordia fans a glimpse of hope in the top of the ninth. Ozlanski hit the lead-off hitter, Shawn Miller who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Cougar Cam Stephens singled sharply to right field but a quick throw back to the middle of the diamond kept Miller from scoring in the play, which would prove to be a huge play. With Foley keeping the Cougars from scoring the go-ahead run, Ozlanski got a weak pop-out to short right before enducing a ground out that Wilson handled easily.
The Spartans got a two-out single by Adams off Milroy in the ninth but could not get anything more, putting the game into extra innings.
As had been the case in the previous two innings, Concordia put pressure on the Spartan defense and pitchers in the top of the 10th inning. With one-out, Concordia's Brendan Schulz lined a single off the right leg of Ozlanski that bounded to Mackey but his throw went wide allowing Schulz to move into second with one out. AU junior Luke Gilbertson came on in relief of Ozlanski as he was unable to finish after the line drive. As had been the recipe of the previous two Spartan relievers, Gilbertson struck out Cougar Anthony Even and got Skala to fly out to Adams in center, setting up the eventful and final at bat for Aurora.
With the win, AU improves to 36-8 on the season with their next action coming in the NCAA regional. The NCAA will announce the 2012 field and assignments on Monday, May 14, 2012.