APPLETON, Wis. — Poor pitching ended the St. Thomas baseball team’s undefeated run in the NCAA Division III World Series with a 13-9 loss to Wheaton in the third round Monday, May 28.
Senior lefty Bryce Gapinski allowed eight runs and eight hits in the first three innings; and while No. 4-ranked St. Thomas (40-9) was able to rally back to a 9-8 deficit late in the game, No. 9-ranked Wheaton (41-9) put the game out of reach when it scored four runs off sophomore right-handed pitcher Tommy Danczyk in the bottom of the eighth inning.
“Our pitching definitely did not keep us in that ball game,” coach Chris Olean said. “We gave up some runs early. Take those away and you have a closer game.”
With the loss, the Tommies fall to the losers’ bracket and face State University of New York-Cortland in an elimination game at noon Tuesday. St. Thomas now must win three games in two days to capture its third national championship.
St. Thomas showed promise from the start, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. Sophomore outfielder Tim Kuzniar got a base hit and scored off junior designated hitter Dylan Thomas’ double. Thomas then scored off senior third baseman Charles Bruchu’s double. Senior outfielder Nick Reichert’s single scored Bruchu for the third run. The Lyons had three errors in the opening inning.
“I think our offense was pretty good. They competed all game, right to the very last out,” Olean said.
The Lyons responded with one run in the bottom of the first. Junior outfielder Sean Ryan scored off sophomore catcher J.D. Dorgan’s passed ball.
In the Tommies’ second at-bat, Bruchu hit a triple that scored Kuzniar from first. Wheaton’s starting pitcher, senior right-hander Nolan Corr, was replaced by junior righty Corey Laliberte after that. Corr allowed four runs off seven hits.
Junior catcher Dan Gusovsky hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second (his first of the season), bringing Wheaton to a 4-3 deficit.
After the Tommies’ extended their lead to 5-3 in the third, the Lyons broke open the game with five runs off Gapinski. Freshman first baseman Apolinar De la Cruz hit Wheaton’s second two-run homer of the game, then outfielder John Keating hit a two-RBI single, giving his team an 8-5 lead.
Gapinski, who suffered his first loss of the season, was replaced by junior right-handed pitcher Josh Kubitschek in the third.
Olean said Gapinski got in some counts that “weren’t real good,” but he says pulling him early may help in a later game.
“One benefit is that he didn’t throw many pitches, so if we need to bring him back again, we can easily do that,” Olean said.
St. Thomas was able to rally to a 9-8 score after scoring two runs in the sixth and one in the eighth, but Danczyk struggled from the mound. Danczyk, who replaced freshman righty Greg Clute as the Tommies’ fourth pitcher of the game, hit two players with pitches and had four wild pitches that resulted in four Lyon runs.
Olean didn’t think the disastrous pitching showing was the result of nerves or “jitters.”
“We just made a few errors today,” Olean said. “I don’t think it’s a trend that will continue moving forward.”
The Tommies had a chance to tie the game up with the bases loaded in the ninth. Down 13-9, junior designated hitter Dylan Thomas grounded out to first base for the game’s final out.
St. Thomas had 17 hits against Wheaton and seven players had multiple hits; senior third baseman Charles Bruchu led the team with three hits, three RBIs and one run.
Bruchu said his success came from “seeing a lot of fastballs.”
SUNY-Cortland has a 2-1 record in the tournament going into Tuesday’s matchup against St. Thomas. After winning their first game, the Red Dragons also lost to Wheaton in a second-round game but came back to win an elimination game against Whitworth on Monday.
Olean is still confident in his team’s chances after this first loss in the World Series.
“We’re still right here; it’s just one game,” Olean said. “If we get through tomorrow, I’ll take our chances in the title game.”
Hayley Schnell can be reached at email@example.com.