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Wooster baseball comes out of a great national run

 Ben Blotner

Contributing Writer

The College of Wooster baseball team ended former head coach Tim Pettorini’s illustrious career with a strong 2019 season, capping it off with a deep playoff run that lasted all the way until the Division III Super Regional round before falling short. Including the postseason, the Fighting Scots finished with a 30-15 record in Pettorini’s final year. Despite the success, the team will not be satisfied with any result short of a championship. 

“Making the Super Regional tournament was nice, but our goal is always to win it all, so we are anxious to get this year’s journey started and earn our way back to another World Series,” said new head coach Barry Craddock.

After finishing the regular season at 24-10 — the best record in the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) — the team got off to a strong start at the NCAC tournament on May 9 in Chillicothe, Ohio. Wooster opened by defeating Wabash College 10-4 before thrashing Denison University 19-3 later that day. The Scots’ first win against Wabash was led by a balanced offensive attack, as seven different players recorded at least one RBI. Chandler Dippman ’19 knocked in three runs, including two on a long ball, while Jacob Stuursma ’19 also went deep. The offensive onslaught continued against Denison, and even more Scots got in on the fun this time, as 10 different hitters drove in at least one run. Dan Harwood ’20 had three hits and three RBIs, including a home run, and Ben Gbur ’22 knocked in four. Nick Strausbaugh ’20 sparked the team from the leadoff spot with three hits, two walks and three runs scored.

With the pair of convincing wins, the Scots advanced to the championship round of the NCAC tournament the following day, in which they again faced Denison. In the first game of the finals, Wooster took a 3-2 lead into the ninth inning, but the Big Red rallied for three runs to steal a victory. This extended the tournament to one final game, in which Denison jumped out to a 7-2 lead. Wooster fought their way back into the game with three runs in the eighth inning, but the comeback effort fell short, as the score ended at 7-5 and Denison took the tournament.

The Scots, however, would continue their playoff run in the Mideast Regional tournament. After a 2-1 loss to the University of Rochester on May 17, Wooster would tear through the consolation bracket with four consecutive wins. The offense once again caught fire on May 18, starting with a 13-3 beatdown of Otterbein University. This time, it was Stuursma getting the offense going; he went 3-for-4 with 5 RBIs from the leadoff spot, while Garrett Crum ’19 went yard and knocked in three. In the second contest, Wooster’s offense showed even less mercy, getting its revenge on Rochester with a 21-4 massacre. This game was over before it started, as the Scots raked their way to a 5-0 first-inning lead that grew to 11-0 by the fourth and 20-0 by the eighth. Harry Witwer-Dukes ’20 and Gbur drove in four runs a piece, while Gbur and Noah Clement ’19 supplied the long balls. 

Wooster carried the momentum of this Herculean offensive performance into the next day, sweeping a doubleheader from Case Western Reserve University to become regional tournament champions. The Scots jumped out to 7-0 lead with the help of a two-run double by Stuursma and a two-run blast off the bat of Witwer-Dukes. Case Western cut its deficit to 7-4 before Dan Gail ’20’s solo shot made it 8-4 in the eighth. This run would be the difference, as the Scots’ bullpen held on for an 8-7 victory. 

The second win of the day, a decisive 9-3 affair, completed the Scots’ comeback from the losers’ bracket to win the tournament. The offense continued to roll, as Stuursma stayed hot with a two-run blast and Dippman also went deep while Witwer-Dukes contributed three RBIs. Along with his dinger, Dippman went the distance on the mound, allowing just the three runs with one walk and five Ks. Dippman and fellow starting pitcher Evan Faxon ’21 were gutsy performers on the mound throughout the tournament, with each pitcher starting a game on consecutive days. 

“Our team showed a lot of grit coming through the loser’s bracket to win the Mideast Regional tournament, especially having two pitchers [Dippman and Faxon] start two games each over two days,” Craddock said.

In the Super Regional tournament on May 24-25, Wooster’s magic would run out against Heidelberg University, ending the highly successful Pettorini era of baseball at the College. After weeks of outstanding performance, the pitchers and hitters finally ran out of gas, falling by scores of 8-5 and 14-1 as Heidelberg took the Super Regional title. Wooster’s class of 2019 became the first group ever to have an NCAC-best record in baseball for four straight years, and Craddock expressed pride in his players’ efforts and optimism for the upcoming season.

“Winning four straight NCAC Championships … was a tremendous accomplishment,” he said. “I know our senior class of 2020 wants to become the second group in history to win four titles.” 

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