WATERLOO – Done in by four unearned runs allowed, the Iowa Wesleyan College baseball team saw its season end in the championship game of the Midwest Collegiate Conference Baseball Tournament with a 4-1 loss to Grand View University Tuesday afternoon at Riverfront Stadium.
The top-seeded Tigers won a pair of games on Tuesday and were able to play their way back through the bracket to a final winner-take-all game with the #2 seed Vikings, but once IWC got there its bats went quiet and its fielding touch departed at the wrong time. GVU clinched the MCC’s automatic berth to the NAIA National Tournament, while IWC finished its season with a 31-23 record.
Wesleyan had just six hits in the championship game and, just as importantly, committed five errors, including three errors directly responsible for Grand View runs. The result was IWC’s second tough loss to the Vikings in the tourney, another in which errors played a huge part in a game the Tigers otherwise played well in.
The Vikings (29-18 overall) scored three times in the third and added another run in the fourth, with two runs coming on separate plays where GVU tried squeeze plays with runners at third base and the Tigers botched easy plays at the plate to cut down the runner. The third run in the third scored on a wild pitch by IWC starter Chris Walls (Sr.-North Liberty, Ind.), and the fourth run scored on another error, as Wesleyan threw the ball away again at home plate after it was about to throw out a runner trying to score from second on a single.
Offense was at a premium in the final game, as a generous strike zone meant hitters had to swing early and often and both pitchers benefitted. Walls pitched a complete game and scattered eight hits while allowing the four unearned runs and striking out two. Grand View’s Austin Denny was a little bit better, though, going all nine innings and allowing six hits while striking out three and walking two.
The Tigers hit the ball hard against Denny, particularly over the final three innings, but it seemed every hard hit ball was right at a Grand View defender, and IWC struggled to put together any kind of rally. Wesleyan left the bases loaded in the fourth and stranded base runners in scoring position in the fifth and sixth innings before lining out four times over the final three innings.
IWC finally scored in the bottom of the ninth as Edder Morales (Sr.-Barquisimeto, Venezuela) singled and Lino Sampson (So.-Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela) doubled to lead off the inning. Bryson Griffin (Jr.-Provo, Utah) came on to run for Morales and scored on a ground out by Pedro Hernandez (Sr.-Quebradillas, Puerto Rico), but the Tigers could generate no more, hitting two more ground outs to end the game and the season.
Wesleyan was able to make its way to a final game against Grand View after winning a pair of games earlier in the day on the strength of some terrific pitching performances. The Tigers completed a suspended game against Viterbo (Wis.) University, coming back for a 7-5 win, and then tagged Grand View with its first loss of the tourney with a 9-1 win over the Vikings in the afternoon to force the final game.
IWC and Viterbo resumed their elimination in the sixth inning with the score tied at 5-5 after rain suspended the game the night before, and the Tigers scored twice in the top of the eighth to complete a comeback from an early 5-0 deficit. Jared Zueck (Sr.-Williamsville, Ill.) walked with the bases loaded to drive in the lead run, and Griffin scored later in the inning on a wild pitch for an insurance run.
Travis Parker (Sr.-Taylor Ridge, Ill.) picked up the win with a rarity, a nine-inning pitching performance in relief. Parker came on in the first inning after Walls was unable to record an out in the start, and the senior allowed just three hits over nine innings and earned the win. Parker even stayed in the game after pitching up until the rain delay Monday night, staying in the game after it resumed Tuesday and continuing to dominate the third-seeded V-Hawks, who finished 28-21-1 this year.
IWC then stayed alive in the tourney with a win over Grand View that was closer than the final score would indicate. The Tigers exploded for seven big runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to blow open a 2-1 game and force the final game between the two teams.
Josh Sturges (Jr.-Murray, Utah) had two hits, including a two-run double in the eighth, when Wesleyan sent 12 batters to the plate. Dick Bargewell (Sr.-Burlington, Wash.) also had two hits and three RBIs, including another two-run double, and Sampson and Jay Olson (So.-Agency, Iowa) both drove in runs as well.
The biggest story for the Tigers, though, was pitcher Brian Graves (Jr.-Pierre, S.D.), who pitched a complete game and scattered eight hits while not allowing a run after the first inning. Graves came in with a 9.29 ERA and made his first start since March 27 and just his third appearance at all since allowing seven runs in five innings in a loss that day against Mount Mercy College. The junior was a star on this day, though, picking up his second win of the season, his first since defeating Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) College on Feb. 28 in Wesleyan’s fifth game of the season. Graves did not strike out a batter but allowed just three hits after the third inning and set down 11 in a row at one point.
The tourney marks the final games for a total of 11 seniors on this year’s team. Iowa Wesleyan’s 31 wins this season is the fourth-most in a season in school history, and along with the team’s first-ever conference regular season title in over 100 years of baseball at the school, the 113 wins over the last four years under Head Coach Brett Monaghan is the most wins over any four-year span in school history.
Box score #1 IWC 7 #3 Viterbo 5
Box score #1 IWC 9 #2 GVU 1
Box score #2 GVU 4 #1 IWC 1