Hard work, perseverance and dedication paid off for the Trinity baseball team as they completed a historical season for the team, ending with a third place finish in the NCAA DIII World Series.
However, it was not an easy path to the NCAA playoffs, let alone a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title. The Tigers headed into the SCAC championships with a conference record of 13-5 and an overall record of 29-11, which seeded them third out of the four teams in the tournament.
For the Tigers, this was not the most welcome record after suffering some unexpected losses.
â€œIt was probably the worst case scenario. We lost a lot of series that we didnâ€™t expect to lose, played crappy, were third in conference at the end of the year and actually had to battle to make the conference tournament, which is not normal for us,â€ said Drew Butler senior catcher.
However, thanks to their perseverance, the Tigers were able to overcome a shaky start to the season and earn another SCAC title.
â€œWe knew we had talented players and had our ups and downs over the year, and it really came down to focus. We took some games off when we didnâ€™t play as focused as we should have, but once we got into conference, the guys kind of flipped a switch and got going from there,â€ said Kevin Clements assistant coach.
The Tigers, who won the two previous SCAC titles, got off on the right track with a 3-1 win over Texas Lutheran University in their first game on Friday, May 1. The Bulldogs scored in the bottom of the first inning, and 1-0 remained the scoreline until the eighth inning. In the top of the eighth inning, the Tigers began their comeback from behind with a single run. Then in the top ninth inning, the team secured the victory with two more runs.
On Saturday, May 2, their title run was put in jeopardy after a 3-2 loss in the tenth inning to Centenary College, bumping the Tigers to the elimination bracket for their third tournament game. In the elimination game on Sunday, May 3, the Tigers defeated Texas Lutheran University, lifting them into the SCAC championship final against Centenary.
In the SCAC championship, the Tigers were able to capture the trophy with back-to-back wins over Centenary. The two games were played on Sunday, May 3 with the Tigers winning the first game 6-4 and sweeping the second game 10-0.
Thanks to the Tigersâ€™ successful claim of a third consecutive SCAC title, the team earned a spot in the NCAA playoffs for the sixth year in a row. Though they were heading into the NCAA regional tournament, the Tigers had never captured the title in their ten appearances during the 17-year tenure of head coach, Tim Scannell.
After securing a bid to the NCAA West Regionals, the Tigers only had one goal in sight.
â€œHeading into Regionals, I think itâ€™s safe to say that our one goal was simply to win it and advance to the World Series. We werenâ€™t going to be satisfied with anything less,â€ said senior second baseman, Colin Serkowski.
The Tigers kicked off their bid to win regionals with a 5-1 victory over reigning champions Linfield College. They then followed that up with a 5-3 win over Millsaps.
In their third game against La Verne, the Tigers completed a comeback in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Tigers were down 4-2 heading into the bottom of the eighth but then managed to score five runs to lift them over La Verne with a 7-4 win, earning them a spot in the regional final against Linfield.
During two of the last three years, the Tigers made it to the regional finals and then fallen to Linfield. Yet, this year the Tigers were able to overcome the Wildcats and get a 7-3 win after scoring five runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. This win led them to their first regional title and bid to the NCAA DIII World Championships.
â€œIt was kind of surreal having been to the last game so many times and coming up short. Finally getting over that hump and getting to the World Series kind of opened the door to hopefully make it easier to get back,â€ Clements said.
The win was a historic one for the Tiger program, having never nabbed the regional trophy before.
â€œIt didnâ€™t really sink in until the bus ride home, and we were celebrating and looking at our phones and seeing tweets from people we didnâ€™t know and messages congratulating us,â€ Butler said. â€œThere were people from 30 years ago from Trinity that were reaching out to all of us, congratulating us, so that kind of showed us it was a big deal.â€
The Tigers opened their inaugural world series appearance with a 9-7 loss against Emory University. They then bounced back with three consecutive wins against Sailsbury (9-1), Emory (10-1) and Wis.-La Crosse (16-6).
In the semi-final game the Tigers faced off against Wis.-La Crosse again but were unable to come away with the victory, and they were defeated 10-7, ending their World Series run. The Tigers ended their first World Series appearance with a third place finish overall.
â€œWe came out a bit shaky our first game, probably some nerves that got to us. We battled resiliently to win three elimination games in a row, before losing in the National Semifinals. Obviously we had our sights on winning the whole thing, but we canâ€™t be mad with the way we fought and held our own on the biggest stage,â€ Serkowski said.
The Tigers are ready to come back next season and have their sights on big things once again.
â€œWe have so much more to look forward to now after having been there,â€ Butler said. â€œIt was a tough way to go out, but at the end of the day we got third in the college nation. [Next year] should be good. I think we can be even better than we were last year.â€