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Top-seeded Webster (Ill.) posts 6-4 win over Thomas More in NCAA Division III Tourney opener

NKyTribune staff

SAUGET, Ill. — Webster University scored six runs in the first three innings and then held off a late rally by eighth-seeded Thomas More to post a 6-4 victory Thursday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Division III Central Regional Tournament at GSC Credit Union Ballpark.

With the victory, the top-seeded and seventh-ranked Gorloks improved to 37-8 and advanced to Friday’s winner’s bracket game at 4:30 p.m. against No. 4 seeded Rhodes, which earned its spot in the winner’s bracket with a 4-2 win over fifth-seeded and 13th-ranked Franklin (Ind.) College.

Thomas More falls to 24-19 with the loss and will face Franklin in an elimination game at 10 a.m.

The 37 wins ties Webster’s single-season record for victories. Both the 2013 and ’14 Gorlok squads also won 37 games.

In the win over Thomas More, Webster’s offense collected 11 hits, including six runs during the first three innings to jump in front 6-0.

Senior left fielder Mike Wick, sophomore first baseman Kyler Kent and senior center fielder Conner Wardlaw each had two hits. Senior designated hitter Ben Dinter, who was named the MVP at last weekend’s St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, had two runs batted in to ignite the win.

The Gorloks, who are making their second straight and 12th all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, got going early as they used three hits and scored one run in the bottom of the first to take a 1-0 lead over the Saints, who earned the automatic bid from the Presidents’ Athletic Conference. In the inning, Wick led off with a double off Saints starting pitcher Jayson Essell, moved to third on a bunt by sophomore rightfielder Adam Lovell and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Dinter.

Webster extended the lead to 5-0 in the second inning as the Gorlocks used four hits and two errors to plate four runs. Wardlaw opened the frame with a single up the middle, moved to second on a passed ball and then reached third on a groundout by Danny Strohm. Matt Staker then dropped down a bunt and Essell committed a throwing error that allowed Staker to reach base safely and Wardlaw to score.

Wick advanced Staker to third with his double to left-center field, and Lovell followed with an RBI single to center to plate Staker with the second run of the inning. After Lovell stole second, Dinter deliverd an RBI single to left-center field to score the third run of the frame and later in the inning, Lovell scored on a fielding error by Thomas More second baseman Ben Laumann.

The Gorloks plated their sixth run in the bottom of the third off of Thomas More reliever Noah Frantz, who replaced Essell to open the inning. The run came thanks to back-to-back doubles by Joe Swanson and Wardlaw to give Webster a 6-0 lead.

Those six runs gave Webster sophomore hurler Matt Mulhearn some cushion on the mound as he cruised through the first five innings. He allowed just two hits and no runs before running into trouble.

In the sixth, Thomas More sent eight batters to the plate and recording five hits and scored three runs to drop Webster’s lead to 6-3. All three of the runs came with two outs as Sean Lawrence began the scoring with a two-run single to center, and after a passed ball put Lawrence on second, Tyler Smith delivered a run-scoring single to center to chase Mulhearn from the game.

With the tying run at the plate, Webster head coach Bill Kurich turned the game over to ace reliever Shane Donovan, and the left-hander would prevent further damage in the sixth as he forced Jacob Whitford to line out to right to end the inning.

In the eighth, Donovan would run into some trouble as he walked Sam Hauer to lead off the inning and then Lawrence hit a single through the right side to put runners on first and second with no outs. A bunt by Smith moved the runners up 90 feet and a sacrifice fly by Joshua Boeckmann brought home Hauer with the Saints’ fourth run of the game.

Donovan, though, would get out of the inning by forcing Whitford to fly out to end the frame and keep Webster’s lead at two runs.

Donovan would pitch around a hit in the ninth and sealed the win by forcing Brady Reynolds to ground out to Staker at short to end the game and notch his school-record eighth save.

Mulhearn (10-2) picked up the win for the Gorloks as he pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed seven hits and three runs, while walking none and striking out five. The 10 wins are tied for the most in a single season in school history, as Isaac Behme and Steven Dooley also won 10 games for the Gorloks in 2013. For Mulhearn, it marked the fifth start this season that he did not walk a hitter.

Donovan pitched 3 1/3 innings and allowed three hits and one run, while walking one and fanning one. The eight saves bettered the old mark of seven set by Steven Dooley in 2012.

Thomas More finished with 10 hits. Lawrence went 3-for-4 with a run scored and two RBI, while Ben Laumann added two hits in the loss.

Essell (7-3) took the loss on the mound for the Saints as he pitched just two innings and allowed seven hits and five runs (three earned), while walking and striking out none.

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