CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Twenty years after making its first appearance in the College World Series, the Salisbury University baseball team has finished the job.
The sixth-ranked Sea Gulls captured their first-ever national championship in baseball, holding on to defeat the 19th-ranked St. Thomas (Minn.) Tommies, 4-2, in Game 2 of the best-of-three 2021 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship finals on Tuesday afternoon at Perfect Game Field at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Just like in Monday's Game 1, the Tommies put together an early bases-loaded threat and came away with the bare minimum. In the bottom of the third, Matthew Enck beat out a one-out infield hit, then Max Moris and Sam Kulesa hit back-to-back singles to load the bases. That brought up Avery Lehman, who dropped a duck snort single into right to score Enck and make it 1-0 St. Thomas.
- Salisbury starter Benji Thalheimer buckled down from there, though, forcing Josh Throp to ground into an inning-ending 6-3 double play.
- The Sea Gulls responded in kind during the top of the fourth. Sky Rahill led off with a single, then Cameron Hyder was hit by a pitch and Jacob Ference advanced the runners on a sac bunt. Luke Weddell was hit to load the bases, and Cullen McAuliffe followed with a line-drive single up the middle, bringing home Rahill with the tying run.
- Two batters later, Kavi Caster dropped a soft liner into right field for a two-out base hit, scoring Hyder and Weddell to put the Sea Gulls on top 3-1.
- St. Thomas threatened to get back into it in the bottom of the fifth, putting two on with one out. Sea Gull reliever Corey Burton came in and stifled that rally, getting a groundout and a strikeout to retire the side.
- Salisbury added an insurance run in the seventh. Stephen Rice led off with a single, then two batters later Hyder singled him over to third. Ference came up next and hit into an RBI fielder's choice at second, making it 4-1 Sea Gulls.
- Three outs away from history, the Sea Gulls dealt with a furious bottom-of-the-ninth rally from a Tommie team that came from behind in all three of its prior College World Series wins. Enck reached on a one-out error at short, then after a flyout, Kulesa dropped a single into right-center. Lehman walked to load the bases, at which point Salisbury went to the bullpen for All-American Clayton Dwyer.
- Dwyer first faced Thorp, who hit a slow grounder to short that resulted in an error, scoring Enck to make it 4-2 and put the tying runs in scoring position and winning run on first base.
- Up came Charlie Bartholomew, who connected on a 2-1 pitch and lifted a flyball out to left field. Caster camped under it for the easy catch, setting off a dogpile on the mound and a wild celebration among the Sea Gull faithful who followed the maroon and gold over 1,000 miles west to witness history.
SALISBURY GAME NOTES
- Kavi Caster finished the day 2-for-4 with two RBIs, driving in what would end up being the winning run on a two-run single in the fourth.
- Sky Rahill went 3-for-5 with a run scored, while Cameron Hyder followed him in the order by scoring a run and going 2-for-3.
- Justin Meekins wrapped up his illustrious Sea Gull career with a multi-hit game, going 2-for-5. Meekins finishes with 227 career hits, good for sixth in program history, and leaves the maroon and gold as its all-time leader in runs scored (199) and times hit by the pitch (70).
- Corey Burton (5-0) earned his fifth win of the NCAA Tournament and second of the College World Series, allowing just one unearned run on four hits in 4.1 innings out of the bullpen. Burton walked one and struck out three.
- Clayton Dwyer secured the 27th out and earned his third save in the process, inducing weak contact from both batters he faced after pitching four innings in relief to nail down the save the day before.
- Making his first career start, freshman right-hander Benji Thalheimer held the Tommies to one run on six hits over 4.1 innings, walking one and striking out two on 59 pitches. Thalheimer allowed just one run over seven innings in the College World Series after only pitching 7.2 innings in the regular season.
- Salisbury wraps up the NCAA Tournament a perfect 9-0, becoming the first Division III national champion to go undefeated through the tournament since Trinity (Texas) in 2016.
- The Sea Gulls had gone 3-10 in their five previous College World Series appearances before going 5-0 in Cedar Rapids.
- Salisbury finishes the season 34-4 and riding a 14-game winning streak. The Sea Gulls' .895 winning percentage is the second-highest in program history, trailing only the 2008 team's 41-4 mark (.911).
- In addition to being the baseball program's first national championship, this is the 22nd team national championship in the history of Salisbury University athletics and second this spring. The Sea Gull women's lacrosse team captured their own national title by defeating Tufts 14-13 on May 23, 16 days prior.
ST. THOMAS GAME NOTES
- Matthew Enck sparked both Tommies rallies from the eight-hole, going 2-for-4 and scoring both UST runs.
- Sam Kulesa finished 3-for-5 at the top of the order, keeping the line moving in both scoring rallies.
- Andrew Tri (7-5) took the loss despite a superhuman effort for the Tommies, throwing 111 pitches and allowing four runs on 11 hits over seven innings.
- St. Thomas finishes as national runner-up for the third time, earning top-three finishes in all seven trips to the Division III College World Series. The Tommie athletic program is moving up to Division I for the 2021-22 season.
2021 NCAA Division III College World Series All-Tournament Team
- Most Outstanding Player – from Salisbury University, So., Jackson Balzan
- SP - from Salisbury University, So., Jackson Balzan
- SP – from Wheaton University, Jr., Griffin Young
- SP - from Rowan University, So., Eli Atiya
- SP - from Salisbury University, Fr., Benji Thalheimer
- RP - from University of Saint Thomas, Fr., Jeremy Klick
- RP - from University of Saint Thomas, So., TJ Constertina
- C – from Adrian College, Sr., Gunner Rainey
- 1B – from Washington University-Saint Louis, Jr., Bo Anderson
- 2B - from Salisbury University, Sr., Cullen McAuliffe
- 3B - from Salisbury University, Jr., Luke Weddell
- SS - from Washington University-Saint Louis, Jr., Caleb Durbin
- OF – from SUNY-Cortland, Sr. Scott Giordano
- OF – from University of Saint Thomas, Fr., Jake Porter
- OF – from Washington University-St. Louis, Fr., Clayton Miller
- DH – from Salisbury University, So., Kavi Caster