CARY, N.C. – Junior right-hander Chance Hitchcock worked into the ninth inning and the Ashland University baseball team earned an 8-3 win over NYIT on Monday (June 3) afternoon to advance in the NCAA Division II World Series at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.
The Eagles (48-14), seeded No. 4 in the World Series, tied the 2002 squad for the most wins in a season, and for the first time in six Series appearances, won after their first game.
Ashland will now play the loser of Monday night's Colorado Mesa-Central Missouri game on Wednesday (June 5) at 7 p.m. in another elimination game. The Eagles lost to Central Missouri in the opener on Saturday, 9-4.
On Monday, Hitchcock and the defense behind him were cruising as he faced just one over the minimum through the first four innings.
The infield rolled up a 4-6-3 double play in the first inning to work around a one-out single by the Bears (37-16), who were the No. 8 seed in the World Series.
Hitchcock struck out two in the second, pitched around a two-out walk in the third and retired the side in order in the fourth.
"All year (pitching) coach (Aaron) Hilt and I have been really clicking," said Hitchcock. "When he calls pitches I have all the trust in the world. When I go out there, I have so much confidence. It was a good outing for us."
The AU bats, which left the bases loaded in the first inning, finally broke through in the fifth on a two-run single through the middle by senior Matt Littrell. Junior Garret Robberts added a two-out RBI single later in the inning to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
"We weren't happy with ourselves leaving those guys in scoring position," Robberts said. "We knew that our bats would come around at some point in the game.
The defense turned another double play in the bottom of the fifth, their second of three in the game.
"We always work behind him, he throws strikes and gets us a lot of groundballs," said Littrell of Hitchcock. "That's all you can ask for as a middle infielder."
The Eagles doubled their lead in the sixth. Sophomore Logan Stoldt doubled and eventually scored on a wild pitch and Littrell later roped an RBI double, followed by an RBI single by junior Carson Mittermaier to put Ashland ahead 6-0.
Following the long inning which also saw a replay review, the Bears did their only damage off Hitchcock in the bottom of the sixth, plating three runs on four hits, including two on a two-out single by Kieran Dowd.
"I can't really complain when my guys are getting me runs," Hitchcock said when asked if the long inning affected his performance.
Hitchcock settled down in the seventh and set the Bears down in order and the AU offense added two insurance runs in the eighth on an RBI groundout by sophomore Dillan Smith and another on a wild pitch. Smith then made a terrific play against the wall in foul territory in the bottom of the eighth, slamming into the wall while making a grab over his head in right field.
NYIT put two runners on in the ninth against Hitchcock, who turned the ball over to ace reliever Chris Slavik. The right-hander made just four pitches and induced a 6-3 double play to end the game.
Hitchcock (9-2) earned the historic win for the Eagles, going 8 1/3 innings and allowing three runs on 10 hits. He struck out six and walked one.
Littrell finished 2-for-4 with a double, two walks, three runs and three RBI. Robberts and sophomore Austin Eifrid had two hits and a walk apiece.
"All year (Eifrid's) done a phenomenal job of getting on base," said Littrell. "He's gotten on all year for the guys behind him. That's nothing new for him."
Joseph Murphy (9-4) took the loss for NYIT, giving up four runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked two.
The Eagles and Bears were even in hits, 10-10, but Ashland drew nine walks in the game, the sixth time this season they drew that many free passes.
"Our guys are confident, we can compete with anyone," said head coach John Schaly. "Getting that first win definitely helps, no question about it."