Owls Survive Elimination Games to Advance to AMC Championship
SPRINGFIELD, IL -- After one off day and two rain delays, the William Woods University baseball team could hardly be blamed for wanting to stick around for extra innings in the second game as they advanced to the AMC Championship game for the second year in a row with back-to-back 9-8 wins on Wednesday.
The Owls held off a rally from Benedictine University-Springfield in the first game of the night before earning a walk-off 9-8 win in 10 innings over Park. Chris Fletcher smacked two home runs for WWU, with Zach Woody driving in the game-winner against Park with a one-out squeeze bunt.
It took the WWU offense a bit to get going in the first game, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. The Owls responded in the top of the second, but Benedictine-Springfield pushed right back in the bottom of the frame.
William Woods knotted the score again in the top of the fourth, but the Bulldogs answered with a pair of runs this time to push the lead back out to 4-2.
In the top of the fifth, WWU was able to tag Bulldog reliever Jordan Cawthon for a run, but BU-S again answered with two in the bottom of the frame to take a 6-3 lead.
The Owls retired in order in the top of the sixth and were able to work out of a jam in the bottom of the inning, as the Bulldogs led off with a pair of singles. After a fielder's choice left runners at first and second, Kyle Krager grounded out to Owls' reliever Matt Thomas but successfully advanced the runners. After an intentional walk loaded the bases, Thomas was able to get catcher David Maziarz to pop out, ending the inning.
In the top of the seventh, William Woods erupted for six runs to put the game out of reach. After leadoff singles from Jacob Harrison and Brian Carr, Derek McCawley drew a walk to load the bases. An error by the Bulldog second baseman allowed Thomas to reach safely as Harrison scored, with Fletcher clearing the bases just as quickly as he belted a grand slam to left field. The Owls kept going, however, as Robert Butvin was hit by a pitch. After Damon Adrian came on as a pinch runner for Butvin, Austin Clapp flew out for the first out of the inning. Adrian swiped second before Justin Elmore struck out, then stole third and scored as the throw from the Bulldog catcher went into left field. The Owls stranded one in the inning, as Derek Fletcher reached on a walk before Harrison popped out to end the inning.
Benedictine University-Springfield was able to pull single runs back in both the seventh and eighth innings, but the Owls clamped down in the ninth, with Thomas striking out Brandon Miles to end the game.
Rolling into game two, the Owls capitalized on the momentum, opening up a 4-2 lead after the first inning. The momentum would be short-lived, however, as Park capitalized on a pair of errors from William Woods to post five runs in the top of the second to take a 7-4 lead.
The Pirates added one run in the top of the third, again taking advantage of a pair of errors from WWU and chasing starter Adam Brush from the game. Cody Cobb reached as McCawley couldn't get the handle on a grounder, then stole second and moved to third as Derek Fletcher's throw was off the mark. A single from Kirk Pruitt closed the book on Brush, but Sean Sanders took a bit to settle into the game, as he uncorked two wild pitches, but he managed to mitigate the damage by recording a pair of called strikeouts to end the inning.
Sanders struck out the first two batters he faced in the fourth as well and the Owls kept Park off the board for the rest of the game.
After scratching out a single run in the bottom of the fifth to cut the margin to 5-8, William Woods retired in order in the sixth before mounting a two-out rally in the seventh. Elmore sparked a one-out single to short, with Derek Fletcher hitting a fly ball to the outfield for out number two. Harrison picked up a base-hit bunt to put runners on first and second, but Carr cracked a triple to score both runners. After a ptiching change for the Pirates, McCawley drew a walk, then successfully got caught in a long rundown to allow Carr to score and tie the game at 8-8.
The Owls nearly put the game to bed in the eighth, taking advantage of another Park pitcher, as Parker Watkins drew a two-out walk before giving way to Adrian as a pinch runner. Adrian swiped second, continuing to third as the throw to second was off, with Clapp following up with a walk. Clapp stole second to put two runners in scoring position for Elmore, but he harmlessly grounded to short to strand both.
In the ninth inning, each team was able to put a runner on second - Park by a hit and a steal, WWU by a walk and a steal - but neither team could break the deadlock. Park again mustered a single runner in the top of the tenth but couldn't manufacture a run.
In the bottom of the frame, Thomas led off with a double to the right field fence, with a sacrifice bunt from Chris Fletcher pushing him to third. Coming on as a pinch hitter, Woody made quick work of the game, pushing a bunt into the infield and legging it out to first as Thomas scampered home.
The Owls move to 35-18 on the year and find themselves in a similar position to the 2011 season, facing Missouri Baptist University in the AMC Championship game. William Woods is in the underdog position this year, however, needing to take two wins from the Spartans to claim the automatic bid to the NAIA National Championship. First pitch from Springfield is set for 1 p.m.