The College of Wooster, champions of the North Coast Athletic Conference, are part of the NCAA Div. III Baseball Championships field once again, as the Fighting Scots have been awarded the No. 3 seed in an eight-team regional hosted by Washington & Jefferson College May 18-22. Action at Ross Memorial Park in Washington, Pa., begins Wednesday, with Wooster slated to play sixth-seeded Johns Hopkins University (28-13-2) in the third game of the day with a tentative start time of 4:30 p.m. EDT. The Fighting Scots will be looking to avenge their season-opening loss to Johns Hopkins, and the game also pits two of the winningest coaches in Div. III against each other in Wooster's Tim Pettorini and Bob Babb of Johns Hopkins, who rank first and fourth among the nation's active leaders in victories at 1,134 and 1,070, respectively.
The other six squads consist of top-seeded La Roche College (36-9), second-seeded Randolph-Macon College (32-6-1), fourth-seeded The College of New Jersey (30-10), fifth-seeded Ohio Wesleyan University (27-14), seventh-seeded St. Joseph's College – Long Island (21-11), and eighth-seeded Widener University (24-16-1). If the schedule goes as planned, the regional championship game will take place on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., with the possibility of a second championship game on Sunday at noon. For tourney updates, visit http://gopresidents.com/sports/2016/5/5/2016-ncaa-division-iii-mideast-regional.aspx?id=138.
There are eight regionals taking place across the country (four with six teams and four with eight for a total of 56 teams), and each champion will qualify for the double-elimination championship at Fox Cities Stadium near Appleton, Wis., May 27-June 2.
Ticket Info: Tickets for the NCAA regional can be purchased at the gate (cash only), and prices are $5 per day for adults and $3 for students/children (age 2 and under are free) or $15 for a tournament pass for adults and $10 for students/children.
On the Air: All of the NCAA regional games at Washington & Jefferson will be webcast (audio and video) by the PAC Sports Network at www.pacstream.net/.
NCAA Tournament Notes: Wooster, making its 28th Div. III tourney appearance, owns a 58-58 all-time record (.500) in regional and national tournament games. The Scots only trail Eastern Connecticut State University (34), Ithaca College (35), and Marietta College (37) in total NCAA appearances.
Wooster, which has gone 21-21 (.500) over 10 NCAA tourneys during the 2000s, has won five regional titles (1989, 1994, 1997, 2005, 2009). The Fighting Scots' top national finishes were runner-up in both 1997 and 2009 and third-place in 2005.
Tournament Tough: Wooster is well prepared for the tournament competition it will face, having played seven opponents – Case Western Reserve University, Johns Hopkins, Keystone College, Marietta, North Central (Ill.) College, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Salem State College – and nine total games (3-6) against teams that are in the 2016 NCAA Div. III Championships field.
Seed Talk: The Scots have been seeded No. 3 at two other NCAA regionals (the NCAA began publishing seedings in 1996), including their last appearance in 2013. That season, Wooster went 1-2, but the other time it was the No. 3 seed, it had one of the two best postseason runs in school history. That came in 1997 when the Scots turned that seed into a regional championship (hosted by Marietta), followed by their first run to the national championship game, eventually falling to the University of Southern Maine 15-1.
Head Coach Tim Pettorini: Wooster is home to the active leader in NCAA Div. III coaching wins – the one and only Tim Pettorini, who owns a 1,134-424-6 record (.727) in 35 seasons, all with the Scots. This is the 23rd time he has guided the team to an NCAA regional appearance, and he has 16 North Coast Athletic Conference championships to his credit. Pettorini, who became the seventh Div. III coach to reach 1,000 wins May 4, 2012, is a 12-time NCAC Coach of the Year.
Interesting for Wednesday's game, Pettorini has beaten six different coaches who either had 1,000 wins at the time of Wooster's victory or went on to 1,000-win careers – Gordie Gillespie (Ripon, 1,893 wins), Don Schaly (Marietta, 1,438 wins), George Valesente (Ithaca, 1,113 wins), Don Brandon (Anderson, 1,100 wins), Bob Babb (Johns Hopkins, 1,070 wins), and Bob Todd (Ohio State, 1,025 wins). Note the school listed is the program where each coach was at the time of Wooster's win(s).
Lackner Continues to Extend NCAA Div. III Record: On April 6, Wooster junior first baseman Jamie Lackner (Westlake, Ohio / Westlake) delivered a two-out, sixth-inning double to extend his consecutive games reached base safely streak to 61, breaking an NCAA Div. III record (60 by Damian Costantino of Salve Regina University; 2001-03). Lackner has continued to successfully reach base (hit, walk, or hit by pitch) in every game since then, upping his record to 90 games. The NCAA all-divisions record for that category is unofficially owned by the University of Texas's Mark Payton, who accomplished the feat 101 games in a row (2012-14).
NCAC Tournament Recap: Wooster won its 16th North Coast Athletic Conference championship by coming through the loser's bracket and reeling off three-straight victories.
On May 12, the Scots scored in each of the first three innings, then broke the game open with a five-run fifth to take a 9-0 lead and went on to a 9-3 victory over Ohio Wesleyan University in the opening game of the NCAC Tournament at VA Memorial Stadium in Chillicothe, Ohio. Already ahead 4-0, Wooster scored all five of its runs in the bottom of the fifth with two outs, keyed by a two-run Jake Fling (Norton, Ohio / Norton) double and a three-run Michael Wielansky (St. Louis, Mo. / Ladue Horton Watkins) homer for the nine-run cushion. Michael Houdek (Cleveland Hts., Ohio / Cleveland Heights) kept Ohio Wesleyan off the board through six innings, and wound up improving to 8-2 as he allowed three runs on five hits during 6.2 innings of work.
On May 13, after falling to DePauw University 10-9 in 11 innings in the winner's bracket game, Tyler Schuch (Wooster, Ohio / Triway) pitched the Scots into the championship round of the NCAC tourney as the junior southpaw faced the minimum through seven innings en route to eliminating Denison University by a 6-1 score. Schuch was nearly perfect through five innings, with the only blemish being a one-out walk in the third that he erased on a 4-6-3 double play. After cruising through the fourth and fifth, he gave up a single to open the sixth and again induced a double play, this time 5-4-3, to empty the bases. From there, Schuch, who upped his record to 8-1, retired the next four hitters to reach the eighth inning with a 6-0 lead. Wooster scored four of those runs in the top of the first, including a two-run double off the bat of Drew Tornow (Painesville, Ohio / Riverside).
In the winner's bracket game, the Scots stormed back from a 9-3 deficit to send it into extras. Two of the biggest swings were by Jamie Lackner (Westlake, Ohio / Westlake), who belted a three-run homer as part of a five-run sixth inning, and Ryan Ostendorf (West Chester, Ohio / Lakota West), who had a game-tying triple in the eighth. Jack Thompson spoiled Wooster's comeback bid, though, lifting DePauw to the win with a two-out, walk-off single in the 11th.
On May 14, the Scots scored in six of the first eight innings, including a four-run seventh that extended their lead to 9-2, and ultimately prevailed 10-5 over DePauw in the NCAC championship after forcing a winner-take-all game by topping DePauw 5-1 earlier in the day. In the championship, Wooster steadily built a 5-2 lead through six innings via single tallies in the first and third innings, a two spot in the fifth, and one more run in the sixth, which featured a leadoff triple to the wall by pinch hitter Chris Fafalios (King City, Ontario / King City Secondary School). Then in the top of the seventh, Wielansky and Lackner opened the frame with back-to-back singles, followed by a passed ball and Ostendorf brought home the former via a sacrifice fly, and a few hitters later, Chandler Dippman (Waterville, Ohio / St. John's Jesuit) provided the big blow – a two-out, bases-loaded triple – as the freshman third baseman made it a seven-run margin. Middle reliever Hank Schlueter (New Springfield, Ohio / Columbiana) picked up his second win of the season (2-0), finishing with a stat line of two runs allowed in 3.1 innings of work.
During the earlier game that day, the pitching of Houdek and Michael Whitaker (Alliance, Ohio / Alliance) plus one swing by Tornow lifted the Scots to the 5-1 victory. All five of their runs came in the fifth, as they drew four consecutive two-out walks, then Tornow deposited the next pitch over the wall in left for a grand slam. Houdek, pitching on one day's rest for the first time, went the first five innings, just yielding a single run on six hits and three walks. Whitaker took over in the sixth and scattered four singles while keeping DePauw off the board the rest of the way for a four-inning save. Together, they combined for 15 strikeouts – eight by Houdek and seven by Whitaker – which marked the most by a Wooster team since April 8, 2010, at Marietta College.
All-Tournament Team: Junior first baseman Jamie Lackner (Westlake, Ohio / Westlake) earned the Most Valuable Player award at the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament after reaching base successfully in 19-of-25 plate appearances for a .760 on-base percentage. He hit .625 (10-for-16) with a double, two homers, and eight RBI while also walking nine times.
Joining him on the all-tourney team for the Scots were Michael Houdek (Cleveland Hts., Ohio / Cleveland Heights), Tyler Schuch (Wooster, Ohio / Triway), Drew Tornow (Painesville, Ohio / Riverside), and Michael Wielansky (St. Louis, Mo. / Ladue Horton Watkins). Houdek won both of his starts and posted a 3.09 ERA, Schuch was brilliant on the mound while leading Wooster to a win in an elimination game, Tornow had two doubles, two homers, and eight RBI, and Wielansky batted .455 with a double, pair of homers, and five RBI.
This and That: As a team, Wooster ranks first statistically in NCAA Div. III in walks with 244 and tied for first in fielding percentage at .977. Individually, Jamie Lackner (Westlake, Ohio / Westlake) is second in walks (43) and third in on-base percentage (.562) ... Two school records have been broken this season, as Kenny Reckart's (Middleburg Hts., Ohio / Midpark) 11 sacrifice bunts surpassed John Warren's 10 from 2009 and Michael Wielansky (St. Louis, Mo. / Ladue Horton Watkins) broke a 22-year-old Wooster mark for assists with 156, previously 150 by Matt Vincler in 1994 ... Junior relief pitcher Michael Whitaker (Alliance, Ohio / Alliance) is currently tied for the Scots' career appearances record with former All-American Mark Miller, each with 73 trips to the mound.