ORANGE, Calif. — Whitman College’s most memorable baseball season in decades came to a close here Sunday as Chapman University escaped with a 3-2 victory over the Blues in the fifth and deciding game of their best-of-five NCAA Division III regional playoff series.
The Panthers pushed across an unearned run in the bottom of the ninth inning to advance to the Division III Super Regionals, a three-game series which will be played this weekend.
“Chapman is a very, very, very good team, incredibly strong and they do an amazing job,” Whitman coach Brian Kitamura said of the Panthers. “They are the No. 6 team in the nation and we went toe-to-toe with them.”
The Blues, making their first appearance in the Division III regionals after winning their first Northwest Conference tournament championship two weeks earlier in Spokane, split a pair of games with Chapman here Friday and again Saturday.
The host Panthers won Friday’s playoff opener 10-5 and the third game of the series Saturday by a 9-4 tally. But the Blues showed their resilience by taking Friday’s second game 2-1 and Saturday’s second game 5-2, a loser-out affair where Whitman was concerned.
Junior left-hander Travis Craven, who pitched a complete game in Saturday’s 2-1 Whitman victory, was summoned out of the bullpen in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game with the game knotted a 2-2. Jake Larson, a junior righty making just his fourth start of the season, had scattered seven Chapman hits over the first four frames.
Craven yielded just four hits the rest of the way, but he ran into trouble in the bottom of the ninth when Chapman’s Mack Cheli led off with a double.
With Cooper Foard pinch running for Cheli, the Panthers’ Jarod Penniman laid down a sacrifice bunt. Craven fielded the ball and attempted to throw Foard out at third base, but the throw was off line, skipped past third baseman David Johnson and Foard raced home with the winning run.
“It was a tough play, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Kitamura said. “Every situation calls for something different, and we felt like it was important to try and cut down that runner and not let the potential winning run get to within 90 feet.
“We came pretty darn close.”
Whitman grabbed the early lead in the top of the first inning when designated hitter Kyle Reisman singled home shortstop Brett Williams after Williams stroked the first of his three singles and stole second base.
Chapman responded in the bottom of the second as Aaron Wong drove home Penniman with the first of his two base hits in the game.
The Blues regained the lead in the fourth when Lucas Thrun walked, reached second base on a wild pitch and scored what turned out to be an unearned run on Johnson’s infield single and subsequent error by Penniman, the Panthers shortstop.
And that was it offensively until the crucial bottom of the ninth when the Blues’ season came to an abrupt end.
“I am extremely proud of this team,” Kitamura said. “We had an incredible year.
“We have really come a long way,” the head coach added. “We’ve worked to get better the entire year, and it is incredible to see what hard work does when it starts to pay off. This is a testament to these guys and all of those who came before.
“Obviously this is a tough ending, but we will be back. We are excited for the future.”
Whitman completes its fourth season under Kitamura with a 28-21 record. Chapman advances to the next level of the postseason with a 36-11 mark.
Panthers 3, Blues 2
Larson, Craven (5) and Nevoso; Peck, Garcia (7) and Jimenez.
Hits — Whitman: Williams 3, Sox, Reisman 2, Johnson, Nakamura; Chapman:Shimabuku, Kevitch 2, Zeisler, Jimenez, Cheli, Penniman 2, Littwin, Wong 2.