‘This group of guys is special’ – Baltimore Sun

Only three baseball programs had ever won back-to-back NCAA Division III championships.

Salisbury had a chance to add to that total after capturing last year’s title, but the school’s bid to join Cal State Stanislaus (1976 and 1977), Glassboro State (1978 and 1979) and Marietta (2011 and 2012) came up short as Eastern Connecticut State swept a best-of-three series Tuesday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

“It sucks,” said senior right fielder Cameron Hyder, a Laurel resident and Reservoir graduate. “We wanted to be here, this was our goal, but the balls didn’t bounce our way today. I’m really proud of our guys, and I’m proud of our seniors and the legacy that they left here. They’re legends to this program. The feeling sucks, but years down the road from here, when we’re seeing each other, that’s not what we’re going to be thinking about.”

The Sea Gulls (39-12), the No. 4 seed among the eight teams left in the College World Series, lost by scores of 11-3 and 3-2 to the Warriors (49-3), the No. 2 seeds. It marked the first time Salisbury had dropped two games in a row since a three-game rut from Feb. 18 to 20.

In the first game, Eastern Connecticut State scored three runs in the first two innings and added three more in the fourth and fifth to own a 6-1 advantage before the Sea Gulls scored three times in the bottom of the fifth. Salisbury coach Troy Brohawn coach said the Warriors’ quick start negated his team’s preferred strategy of manufacturing runs at its own pace.

“In that first game, they took the lead, and that kind of took us out of what we like to do,” he said. “But give them credit. They were aggressive all day swinging the bat, and I think that was the biggest difference in both games. I don’t think we pitched very well, but you’ve also got to give them credit for swinging the bat in the first game. But we just couldn’t get the big hit that we needed. We had a couple opportunities early in both games to put some runs on the board.”

In the second game, the Sea Gulls struck first with a run in the second inning but left two men on base with an inning-ending double play. Eastern Connecticut State responded in the bottom of the fifth with three runs, including two driven in by senior center fielder Ryan Bagdasarian.

“It was just a matter of time before our bats really opened up,” Bagdasarian said. “I was looking for something out over the plate that I could drive, and I was able to hit right over the shortstop’s head. It’s great. I’ve been on a hitting streak, and it’s almost like if I get a hit, we win, and they go with each other.”

Salisbury sophomore starting pitcher Benji Thalheimer said the Warriors were one of the more patient opponents at the plate he had faced this season.

“They were very balanced on pretty much every pitch I threw,” said the Columbia resident and Atholton graduate, who surrendered three earned runs and six hits while striking out three in six innings. “It was kind of hard to find a pitch that a lot of guys were going to swing and miss at. So I had to be really precise with every pitch. They were a good hitting team. They had good approaches and just got the better of us.”

The Sea Gulls had advanced to the finals by defeating No. 5 seed Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 8-2, on Friday, No. 1 seed Marietta, 7-5, in 11 innings on Saturday, and Wisconsin-Stevens Point, 5-2, on Monday. That extended their College World Series winning streak to eight straight, breaking a tie with Montclair State (2000 and 2001) for the longest run in NCAA Division III championship history.

The 39 victories are the second-highest total in a single season at Salisbury. The 2008 squad went 41-4.

Sea Gulls senior left fielder Scott Cameron said he and his teammates should be proud of reaching the championship series for the second consecutive season.

“Doing that in any sport is very tough, but I think baseball might be the toughest to do it in,” he said. “This group of guys is special. I’m so proud of everyone on the squad, especially the seniors. So when this feeling goes away, I think this is definitely something to be proud of.”

Eastern Connecticut State ended its season on a 23-game winning streak that included wins against No. 7 seed Baldwin Wallace, 10-3, on Friday, No. 3 seed LaGrange, 4-3, on Sunday and LaGrange, 8-1, on Monday. The 23-game streak is tied for the longest in school history set by the 2003 squad.

The Warriors picked up their fifth NCAA title, adding to a collection that includes crowns in 1982, 1990, 1998, and 2002. With only one loss in the championship finals in 2004, they trail only Marietta’s six national championships for the most among Division III programs.

Eastern Connecticut State coach Brian Hamm joked that the school thrives during years ending in even numbers.

“It goes to show you that our program has standing,” he said. “It wasn’t just those four national championships when the last one we won was in ’02 – 20 years ago. … But it just goes to show you that we have the makings to win national championships over time.”

Eastern Connecticut State now owns a slight edge in the all-time series with the Sea Gulls, improving to 14-13-1. Salisbury had won the last four meetings.

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