FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
ABILENE, Texas -Three times a host, three times a champ. McMurry played small ball Sunday to defeat Concordia-Texas 4-1 in the American Southwest Conference Baseball Championship at Walt Driggers Field. Dakota Smith pitched a complete game and McMurry used timely hitting to win its fourth conference championship in school history.
McMurry is 3-for-3 when hosting the ASC postseason tournament now after winning at Driggers Field in 1998, 2004 and 2008. The program’s other title came in 2001 at the University of Dallas when McMurry defeated Hardin-Simmons.
“This championship was very gratifying,” said head coach Lee Driggers. “Especially because we’ve overcome a lot of adversity with our injury situation late in the season. But this team pulled together during the time we had guys down until we got them back and we’ve been able to regain our stride.”
McMurry squeaked out only four runs despite averaging over nine runs per contest on the season. But it didn’t matter because Smith, the ASC Tournament MVP, allowed only eight singles, walked one and struck out four to move to 5-0 on the season. He allowed just one run in the sixth inning when Tom Williams hit a bases-loaded groundout to drive in Justin Beasley.
The gap between the 2004 ASC title and this season’s title was the longest drought in program history without the conference crown. Even more importantly for the program, is that Walt Driggers Field was the pre-determined site in 2008 for the NCAA Division III West Region Tournament, and after Sunday’s win, McMurry is guaranteed a spot in that tournament and will get to play at home.
“I felt for the seniors this year because they played their way tot he championship last year but just couldn’t get it done against [Texas] Lutheran,” Driggers said. “So for those guys to come back, make the championship again, and finish what they couldn’t last year, I know it was gratifying for them.”
With the No. 6 team in the nation, UT-Tyler, entering as the ASC Tournament’s No. 1 seed from the east, many felt that it would be the Patriots making the title game. However, the Concordia-Texas Tornados played their way past the Patriots twice in the tournament and may have leapfrogged their way past UT-Tyler in the regional rankings giving the Tornados a shot a NCAA regional bid.
McMurry defeated Mississippi College Friday night to open its tournament by a score of 10-2. That put the hosts in the winner’s bracket Saturday and the team defeated the Tornados 9-7 putting McMurry in Sunday’s championship day without a loss. After CTX defeated Tyler for the second time Saturday 7-3, the Tornados had to beat McMurry twice Sunday with limited pitching arms.
“I think the thing that went our way was staying in the winner’s bracket, because then you get to stay with your normal pitching rotation – teams couldn’t get to our bullpen,” said Driggers. “Our starters did a great job and by doing that we were able to throw our best arms at them where as the other teams were in their bullpen for much of the tournament.
Clint Johnston, Cody Curry and Smith all picked up victories during the tournament. CTX had thrown its three starters in the first two days and assistant coach Jeff Meyer – who served as the team’s head coach this weekend – was forced to start freshman lefthander David Towler.
Towler did a stand up job, however, for the Tornados but McMurry’s 2-run second inning and 2-run sixth inning proved to be all the team would need to win its ASC record-holding fourth title.
Jones singled home Weston Franco in the second for the first run of the ball game and later Steven Yurchick walked with the bases loaded to score Gerad Morris. However, Towler was out of the inning without further damage when George Whitten lined out to end the inning.
Leading 2-0, Concordia poked three straight singles in the sixth to load the bases without an out. However, Smith struck out Patrick Mercer for the first out, and then gave up Williams’ RBI groundout before forcing Brian Wernecke to groundout to end the inning.
With a narrow one-run lead in the bottom of the sixth, McMurry struck again with two outs. Morris doubled for the only extra base hit of the ball game for both teams and Stephen Derrick came across to score. Then, Jones’ bloop single scored Morris the next batter.
The Tornados tried to fight back but CTX left five runners on base in the final three innings, and in the top of the ninth, the Tornados had two runners aboard before Smith struck out Kyle Rhodes to end the game.
Concordia and McMurry were the only two teams represented on the 13-man all-tournament team. Smith was the MVP; CTX’s Ethan Morrison and Peter Ontiveros were named all-tournament and McMurry’s Aaron Wood rounded out the pitchers honored for the weekend.
Ontiveros threw 3.2 innings in relief for the Tornados, allowed just one run and struck out three for the weekend. He also picked up the save in 2.1 innings of work Saturday night to help CTX advance to championship Sunday.
Morrison started the game that Ontiveros finished by throwing 6.1 innings, allowing three unearned runs, walking two and striking out six UT-Tyler hitters for the victory.
Wood earned a save Saturday in the winner’s bracket game against CTX. Starter Cody Curry allowed six runs, but Wood shut the door on the Tornados the final 1.1 innings and struck out two hitters to pick up his first save of the season.
Morris, Jones, Yurchick, Derrick, Derek David and George Whitten earned all-tournament team honors for McMurry’s fielders. David was the only repeat all-tournament team honoree from a year ago; he hit his 26th home run of the season Saturday and drove in four runs for the tournament.
Morris and Whitten were the top hitting outfielders of the tournament; Morris scored two runs, drove in two, hit 4-for-10 and had two outfield assists Friday’s win over Mississippi College including a runner at the plate. Whitten hit his first home run of the season in the tournament Friday when he hit a 3-run shot to seal the game; he also scored three runs and had five hits.
Yurchick was the second-best hitter for the tournament at .455 behind CTX’s Beasley. Yurchick was equally impressive at second base making several key defensive plays throughout the tournament. The senior also homered, hit two doubles, scored five times and drove in three runs.
Stephen Derrick hit two 3-run homers to help McMurry advance to Sunday and was 1-for-1 with a run scored and three walks in the championship game. He led McMurry with six RBI for the tournament.
CTX’s Wernecke, Bryan Jacobs, Nick Cmerek and Beasley joined Ontiveros and Morrison on the all-tournament team. The Tornados were playing without head coach Mike Gardner, whose father passed away late Friday night.
McMurry will find out whether it will be hosting a six or eight-team regional May 11 before the tournament starts May 14. It is likely that Chapman University, the No. 1 team in the nation ranked by D3Baseball.com, will be headed to McMurry in search of its fifth-straight NCAA Division III World Series appearance. McMurry won one of three games against Chapman to open the 2008 season.
“Obviously the advantage we have at the regionals is getting to play at our own field,” said Driggers. “But the advantage stops there. We still have to go out and run, throw and hit like everybody else and it’s going to be a tough regional with good teams, exciting baseball and competitive teams. If we play like we have the last two weeks I think we’ll be competitive.”
2008 ASC Baseball All-Tournament Team
Most Valuable Player — Dakota Smith, SP, McMurry
C: Brian Wernecke, Concordia Texas
1B: Stephen Derrick, McMurry
2B: Steven Yurchick, McMurry
3B: Derek David, McMurry
SS: Bryan Jacobs, Concordia Texas
OF: Gerad Morris, McMurry
OF: George Whitten, McMurry
OF: Nick Cmerek, Concordia Texas
DH: Justin Beasley, Concordia Texas
SP: Ethan Morrison, Concordia Texas
RP: Peter Ontivares, Concordia Texas
RP: Aaron Wood, McMurry