Up-and-coming Rams fall short before College World Series

Up-and-coming Rams fall short before College World Series
May 21
00:00 2015

In photo above: Gavin Culler (1) hit a team-high .470 in the NCAA playoffs. (Photo by Craig T. Greenlee)

     Winston-Salem State University’s baseball season didn’t have a happy ending. Even so, there’s no denying that the Rams have arrived as an up-and-coming factor at the national level.

     Although the team fell short in its quest to earn its first trip to the Division II College World Series, there are plenty of positives to consider. WSSU’s 42-15 record is the best-ever in school history.

     After winning its first two playoff games handily, the Rams eventually bit the dust. However, they pushed the top seeds to the absolute limit at the NCAA Atlantic Regionals in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was WSSU’s fifth straight appearance in the regionals.

     “I like the position we’ve put ourselves in,” said Coach Kevin Ritsche of Winston-Salem State.  “We’ve become strong contenders in our region year after year. I’m confident that we’re on track to seriously compete for a national championship.”

     In tightly-contested regional losses to No. 1 Mercyhurst (2-1) and No. 2 Millersville (6-5), the final outcome wasn’t determined until the final out of the ninth inning in each game.

     The Rams dreams of advancing to the CWS were squashed in the bottom of ninth in the elimination game against Millersville last Sunday. With the score tied 5-5, the Marauders had two runners on base with one out. Tyler Orris hit a liner up the middle off WSSU reliever Jordan Cummings to bring home the winning run and end the Rams season.

    “As I looked around the dug-out after the game was over, there was so much emotion,” said Ritsche, whose team was seeded fourth in the regionals. “You could see the disappointment in their eyes. Deep down, they know that they deserved to be here. We didn’t have any blowout losses. They know they’re good enough to win. It just didn’t happen this time.”

     The Rams, ranked 21st in the national polls, had no problems swinging the bats (5 runs on 10 hits). The issue was keeping Millersville off the board. Nathan Steger hit a two-run single to give WSSU a 5-3 lead in the top of the seventh inning. The Marauders rallied to tie the score again.

     Day three of the regionals turned out to be the longest for the Rams, who were originally scheduled to play Mercyhurst at 7 Saturday night. Two other games were played earlier that day and both lasted 13 innings. As a result, the WSSU-Mercyhurst contest didn’t begin until 9:45 p.m. This game went past midnight and ended around 12:45 Sunday morning.

     In losing to Mercyhurst, the Rams had to be back in action for a 12 noon start on Sunday. Given the time that the game ended, there wasn’t much time to rest. By 9:30 on Sunday morning, WSSU reported back to the tournament site for batting practice prior to facing Millersville.

     “It was a quick turnaround, but our guys handled it well,” said Ritsche. “They battled all the way through. This group has no reason to hang its head. I’m proud of everything they accomplished.”

     Against Mercyhurst, the Rams trailed 2-0 going into their half of the ninth inning. Dylan Dombrowskas smashed a double off the leftfield wall and scored on Steger’s two-base hit down the first-base line. With no outs, Jacob Barber laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Steger to third base. The inning – and the game – ended with back-to-back strikeouts for WSSU.

    “Things went all the way down to the wire,” said Ritsche. “We played extremely well, but just couldn’t come through when we needed it the most. We were only one hit ball away from forcing a tie and then possibly scoring the winning run.”

     Winston-Salem State put on a noteworthy offensive display in convincing wins over Seton Hill and West Chester. In the opener, Gavin Culler and Colby Keene drove in two runs apiece in a 5-2 victory over Seton Hill. Sam Burton pitched six strong innings and allowed one run on four hits.

     The next night, the Rams beat West Chester 9-4. Connor Andrus hit a three-run home run, while Culler, Barber and Alex Grubb had two RBIs each. Left-hander Tyler Scearce threw 6.2 innings and gave up two runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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