APPLETON, Wis. — Senior pitcher Mike Mahaffey tossed a four-hit shutout as the No.-1 ranked and defending national champion Marietta baseball team ended St. Thomas’ season with a 5-0 victory in the championship round of the NCAA Division III World Series Wednesday, May 30.
The fourth-ranked Tommies (41-10) were shut out for the first time this season; they finished third in the nation after beginning the year unranked. It is the fifth-highest finish in school history after national titles in 2009 and 2001 and runner-up finishes in 1999 and 2000. The team’s 41 wins is the second-best finish in school history.
Coach Chris Olean credited Mahaffey, saying the pitcher threw “extremely well” against the Tommie batters.
“You’ve got to score to win, and Mr. Mahaffey shoved it up our butts today,” Olean said.
Rain and mist were almost constant throughout the game, but Olean said that wasn’t a factor.
Marietta scored all the runs it needed in the first inning. Senior All-American shortstop Tim Saunders doubled down the left field line and scored off freshman first baseman Mitch Geers’ single to left.
Saunders was hot from the plate, going four-for-four with three runs scored against the Tommies.
“Saunders is fast. He got three infield singles off me,” St. Thomas starter Steve Maher said. “Once he’s on, he wreaks havoc on the base.”
Marietta’s other two key batters were Geers and junior outfielder Aaron Hopper; Geers went three-for-four with two RBIs and Hopper went two-for-four with one hit and one run.
The Pioneers tacked on another run in the third and three more in the eighth off a tiring Maher, who pitched in relief the day before against SUNY-Cortland.
“After the first couple innings, I was able to settle in more with my fastball. That was working for me up until the eighth inning,” Maher said.
Olean was proud of his sophomore ace, who kept the Tommies within striking distance until the eighth.
“I thought Steve pitched outstanding given the amount of rest he’s had,” Olean said. “He gave us a chance to win; those tack-on runs in the eighth certainly did us in.”
Even though he suffered his second loss of the season, Maher broke Dick Washburn’s 49-year-old record for most strikeouts in a season with 105. Maher set the school record for most wins in a season with 13 in a first-round victory over Christopher Newport.
Maher was content with his overall showing in Appleton.
“I’ll take any experience I can get at the World Series,” Maher said. “You can’t recreate pitching in a big game like this other than to go out and actually do it.”
St. Thomas could only manage four hits to Marietta’s 12. Mahaffey struck out seven Tommies and walked one.
The Tommies had opportunities to score in both the eighth and ninth innings with multiple runners left on base.
One of the Pioneers’ three runs in the eighth came off a balk call on Maher. Olean said he didn’t see the call, but he didn’t think it was a game-changer.
“That call didn’t make the game if we score zero runs,” Olean said.
Marietta defeated Wheaton for the title, 7-2, later Wednesday. Marietta earned its sixth title in program history.
The loss marks the end of an era for the senior class, one that started with the 2009 national championship.
Despite key players like third baseman Charles Bruchu and left-handed pitcher Bryce Gapinski leaving, Maher said the winning tradition of St. Thomas baseball will continue.
“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, so hopefully we’ll be gunning for coming back here,” Maher said. “I’ll take this experience and put it under my belt… I’ll definitely remember this game moving forward.”
Hayley Schnell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.