After two games on Saturday (May 25) – stretched out by an 83-minute weather delay – Ashland University's baseball team advanced to its sixth NCAA Division II College World Series the way one would expect – the hard way.
Trailing 6-5 halfway through the third and final game of the Midwest Super Regional, the No. 8 Eagles took the lead, gave up the tying run, then scored the game- and regional-winner on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning, 8-7, over No. 16 Illinois Springfield. Ashland (47-13) will move on to the D-II CWS, June 1-8 in Cary, N.C.
"We never do things the easy way," said Ashland head coach John Schaly, who will guide his fifth Ashland College World Series squad. "This is just the perfect example of what we've done all year long."
Said Eagle junior center fielder Michael Rogers, who was at the plate when the winning run scored on the wild pitch, "I'll take that any day of the week to take us to the World Series.
"That's how it's been all year. There's an out, and we have a chance."
In Saturday's opener, Ashland wasted no time getting on the board, as sophomore first baseman Micah Allen launched a two-run home run just over the 405 sign in center field with two outs in the top of the first. The Prairie Stars (41-17-1) countered with their own two-run inning in the bottom of the third, and both tallies were unearned.
The Eagles re-took the lead at 3-2 in the top of the fifth when sophomore right fielder Dillan Smith hit a solo round-tripper, his second of the season. But as one would expect in a championship situation, UIS didn't concede, as in the bottom of the fifth, sophomore shortstop Nick Mayerhofer's RBI double made it a 3-all contest.
Illinois Springfield broke out with four runs on no hits in the bottom of the sixth, a half-inning which featured four walks, two hit batters, two sacrifice flies and an error. The Prairie Stars added a solo homer in the bottom of the seventh for an 8-3 advantage.
The top of the eighth saw junior designated hitter Carson Mittermaier hit a solo shot to left-center field, but the Eagles left two runners on at the end of the frame.
Saturday's Game 2 started with a solo home run from UIS' John Sechen, then Ashland scored twice on the bottom of the first thanks to an Allen sacrifice fly and an RBI triple from Rogers. The high-scoring early part of the final game of the series continued into the second frame, with the Prairie Stars scoring twice for a 3-2 advantage.
Illinois Springfield extended its lead to 4-2 in the top of the third, but Rogers had another answer. This time, it was a two-run shot to right field, his 11th home run of the season, in the bottom of the third for a 4-all tie.
Sophomore left fielder Logan Moss hit his first career collegiate home run in the bottom of the fifth to put AU on top 5-4, but the ping-pong nature of the game continued to the top of the sixth with a pair of Prairie Stars run-scoring doubles.
Following the rain delay, the Eagles went back to work for the fourth lead change of the game – a 7-6 lead on a two-run double by junior third baseman Garett Robberts. A UIS run in the top of the seventh, however, gave the nightcap its sixth tie score at 7-7.
With the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, and with Rogers at the plate, a wild pitch allowed senior pinch-runner Sam Hawley to come across with the winning run.
Senior right-hander Chris Slavik went the final four innings to improve to 13-1 on the season, allowing three hits, a run and two walks and whiffing seven.
"When it comes to these kinds of situations, and it's your last year of playing baseball," Slavik said, "there's a little bit extra in the tank every time you go out."
"He's just had an unbelievable year," Schaly said. "If he's not an All-American, something's wrong."
Rogers was 3-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs, and was a double short of a cycle.
Ashland's 47 wins are tied for the second-most in program history in a single-season, bested only by the 48 victories by the 2002 Eagles, and this year's six NCAA postseason wins are the most in Ashland baseball history.
The 60 games played this season are four short of the program mark of 64, set in 2006.