APPLETON, Wis. – Throughout this season, the 10 seniors on the Manchester University baseball team found a way to survive and thrive.
That ended Saturday, as the Spartans could not solve Webster University (Mo.) pitcher Isaac Behme or find a key hit in a 5-3 loss to the Gorloks in the NCAA Division III Championships at Fox Cities Stadium.
The loss ousted Manchester (39-7-1) from the double-elimination tournament, while Webster (37-11) will play at noon today.
Their pitcher did a nice job, said Manchester coach Rick Espeset, who led the Spartans to the Division III championship for the second time in school history and first time since 2004. I thought we had some chances, but he just kept throwing strikes.
Behme (10-3) allowed eight hits in the complete-game win, using primarily his changeup to keep the Spartans off balance. Manchester took a 1-0 lead in the first inning but never got much consistent offense against the sophomore pitcher.
I worked the outside corner a lot, and once they started to get on that a little bit, we mixed in a little more fastball and a curveball once in a while, said Behme, who threw 129 pitches.
The Gorloks went up 3-1 with two runs in the fourth, then added single runs in the sixth and eighth to counter the Spartans, who had rallied to within 3-2 in the fifth. Manchester got leadoff hitters on base in the eighth and ninth innings and had the winning run at the plate in the ninth but could not score.
We were lunging (at the ball) and getting a lot of pop flies, said Manchester senior Corey Marchant, the Bishop Dwenger graduate who went 2 for 4 Saturday.
Despite the season-ending loss, Espeset said this year’s seniors made the most of the journey, which began with a 2012 regional final loss to eventual national champion Marietta.
That started these guys believing that they could get to Appleton, he said. I know how hard it is to get here. You have to be good and you have to be lucky.
Marchant offered one other ingredient to the success of the Spartans’ seniors, who appeared in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship game four straight years.
We’ve transformed from teammates to family over four years, he said. We’ve learned so much from each other, not just about baseball but about everything. They’ll always be close to me.