LA CROSSE, Wis. — The Statesmen baseball team has overcome obstacles all year, and it managed to clear two more hurdles Friday for the Midwest Collegiate Conference crown.
William Penn (22-16, 12-8 MCC) entered the day one game back of Viterbo, but leapfrogged its hosts by winning 5-4 and 4-3 (8 innings). The conference title is the program’s 13th overall and its first since 2009 (fifth since joining the MCC). The Statesmen were just 6-7 in the league back on April 14, but won six of their last seven games.
William Penn will enter next week’s MCC Tournament as the No. 1 seed, opening against the No. 6 seed (TBD) Tuesday at noon. The double-elimination tournament will be contested Tuesday through Friday at Riverfront Stadium in Waterloo.
It was almost a wasted trip into the Cheese State as the visited fell behind 3-0 to the V-Hawks (21-17, 11-9 MCC) after just two frames. The deficit continued to be three entering the sixth when the Statesmen bats finally awoke with all five of their runs.
Jayme Muellerstarted a tremendous rally with a one-out hit-by-pitch, the first of seven players to reach base. Roy Perez followed with a single, and then Brian Williams loaded the bases with a walk. Nathan Wood finally put William Penn on the board with a single to plate Mueller.
With the bases still packed, another run came in on a walk drawn by Joel Medina to bring in pinchrunner Julio Riojas. Chris Redfernwas then hit by a pitch to score Williams to tie the game at 3-3.
Wood came around on the third walk of the frame, which was drawn by Enrique Alvarado. Stan Simmons concluded the rally with a groundout that brought in Medina, making it 5-3 in favor of William Penn.
The Statesmen defense nearly gave the game away in the seventh, though, as it committed two errors, helping the hosts narrow the margin to one at 5-4. The V-Hawks loaded the bases, but the Statesmen came up with an out at second base to knot up the conference race as both teams were 11-8.
The Statesmen overcame being outhit 11-6 and committing four fielding mistakes. Perez paced the offense with a 2-for-2 showing.
Danny Erece allowed all three runson 11 scattered hits in five innings of work. He managed to strike out three batters (no walks) to move to 5-2.
Corey Lathram worked two scoreless innings of relief for his second save of the year. The sophomore had one strikeout.
William Penn also fell behind by three in the nightcap, giving up one in the first inning and two more in the second. Just as in the opener, though, the Statesmen showed fortitude and resilience in the second game as they were held off the scoreboard until the fourth frame.
Williams led off the fourth with a single and then came home on a Viterbo error. Both sides struggled on the defensive end with the V-Hawks committed four errors and William Penn making three mistakes.
Simmons provided the longest hit of the day, clearing the fence to start the fifth. It was his first home run of the year. Kyle Mauricio reached on a bunt single in the next at-bat and was plated three batters later on a single by Williams to tie up the contest.
Each team had their chances late in the game by putting runners in scoring position, but the winner-take-all matchup remained knotted past regulation. William Penn’s first two batters were recorded out to start the top of the eighth, but an unlikely hero started a two-out rally.
Lathram, who was in the game as a relief pitcher, was forced to the plate to keep other strong hitters in the lineup. In his first at-bat of the year, the sophomore fought off several pitches before eventually delivering a single. He was replaced on the basepaths by Riojas and the senior was helped around by three consecutive errors by Viterbo to give William Penn the lead at 4-3.
A one-out error gave the hosts a baserunner in the bottom half, but Lathram shut them down and the improbable became reality for the navy and gold.
Simmons was 3-for-5, while Williams posted a 2-for-3 outing. William Penn was again outhit, this time 12-10.
Jared Shoning struck out three batters in a four-inning start. He was relieved by Mueller in the fifth and the senior went two frames before handing the ball off to Lathram. The right-handed workhorse, who made his 16th and 17th appearances of the year Friday, improved to 4-2 (one walk, one hit).
“Corey had two great outings for us on the mound and then came up with our big hit,” Penn coach Mike Laird said. “His hit was just one of the many crazy things that happened on a crazy day. Fortunately, things went our way and we came away as MCC champs.”
“You cannot keep these guys down,” Laird added. “No matter how bleak the situation appeared, our guys just kept hanging in there and never gave up. This was a total team effort and I am so proud of our players for what they accomplished today and during this conference season.”