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For one of his baseball teams during the eight years that he has coached at St. Catharine College, Luther Bramblett distributed shirts with the letters WTLG on the back. The meaning of the letters was unclear to the players until Bramblett decoded the message – Win The Last Game.
But even with the message explained, it is a goal that very few athletes are able to attain. Bramblett’s 2009 squad did not get such shirts; but they are the first team in St. Catharine history to boast that they did WTLG.
The Patriots did so Thursday in Hampton, Va., when they won the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national title with a 6-4 victory over defending national champion Columbia Union (Maryland). The win culminated a 4-0 record in the tournament and gave Bramblett’s bunch a final 37-14 record.
“Actually we (the Patriot coaching staff) were talking on the way home about how many teams in the nation can say they won the last game of the season,” said Bramblett. “We figured in all divisions of college baseball there are about 10 teams who can say they have done that.”
The Patriots can say they did that convincingly when it came to their performance in the seven-team USCAA national tournament. They opened play Tuesday morning with a 6-0 win over Penn State-Greater Allegheny when Travis Adams set a USCAA tournament record with 13 strikeouts. Later Tuesday they topped Briarcliffe College 11-2.
On Wednesday they beat The Apprentice School that was the host team and the #1 seed by a 13-2 score in the finals of the winner’s bracket. They then took the first place hardware with the win over Columbia Union on Thursday.
“We played outstanding baseball,” added Bramblett. “We pitched great, had solid defense and did all the little things right. It was probably the best four-game stretch that we put together all year.”
Bramblett felt that there were two areas in particular that elevated the Patriots above the rest of the tournament field. The pitching was dominant as Patriot hurlers held the opposing hitters to a .187 average through four games. And the offensive ability of the entire lineup, one through nine, was the key in many big innings. The six through nine hitters batted .480 for the Patriots.
It was that offensive productivity that landed three of those bottom four hitters on the all-tournament team. Shane Young, who batted .555, Josh Landers (.667) and Philip Dean (.636) who was the tournament MVP, were named to the all-tournament team, along with Travis Adams.
“I know it sounds cliché-ish but it really was a total team effort,” Bramblett said. “Everybody in the lineup contributed, everybody in the dugout was talking it up for every inning, every game.”
Dean echoed those sentiments, downplaying his MVP award. “That was just a little something extra to go with the national title,” said the junior outfielder from Boyle County. “I would be just as happy right now whether I got that or not. We had our ups and downs this season, but what was special this week was how we bonded as a team.”
Adams was equally humble despite the magnitude of his contribution that got the Patriots on the winning track in the tournament opener. “Our hitters carried us, which made it easier for us (the pitchers),” he said. “We were hot. We could have competed against any team this week.”
Compete is what the Patriots did, indeed, do well in Hampton. Which made them one of a handful of teams in the nation to say they did WTLG.
Penn State – Greater Allegheny
Travis Adams (8-3) allowed an infield single to the first batter of the game, but that was the only hit for Greater Allegheny (31-14) as Adams set a tournament record with 13 strikeouts in the Patriots’ 6-0 win.
“Travis had outstanding command of all of his pitches. He threw strikes and was aggressive,” said Bramblett.
St. Catharine broke open a 1-0 game with three runs in the fourth inning. The big hit in the inning was a two- run, two-out single by Jared Yates. Yates, Josh Landers and Philip Dean had two hits each. Dean and Landers also scored two runs apiece.
Against Briarcliffe, from Long Island, the Patriots scored in each of their six at-bats to post an 11-2 win. Landers and Brian Jones each had three hits and Shane Young had two hits and three RBI’s.
On the mound Nick Holmes, 6-2, went the distance allowing five hits while striking out five and walking two. “I don’t know that Nick has pitched as complete game since he’s been here,” said Bramblett of the junior right-hander. “Our offense put some runs on the board for him and he did a good job with the lead.”
In the finals of the winner’s bracket, the Patriots again wasted little time in taking control as they scored three runs in the top of the first inning and four more in the third en route to a 13-2 win over the host Apprentice School (27-14).
St. Catharine pounded out 16 hits led by Landers and Young who had three hits each. Justin Witt had two doubles and three runs scored, and Patrick Jones scored twice and had two hits. Brian Jones had three runs batted in. The Patriots completed the scoring in the seventh inning when Brad Krohman blasted a three-run homer, the only round-tripper of the tournament for St. Catharine.
All of that was plenty of offense for winning pitcher Andy Dietz. The junior southpaw gave up two hits and two runs in five innings of work He fanned six batters and walked three. Timmy Paxton pitched two scoreless innings in relief.
“He (Dietz) threw really well for us as he has the last part of the season,” added Bramblett.
The Patriots watched as Columbia Union (25-20) beat Apprentice early Thursday to advance to face them in the championship game. Columbia Union, the defending USCAA champion, would be forced to beat St. Catharine twice to win the tournament, but the Patriots quickly squelched that possibility with a 6-4 win to take the title.
Paxton went back to the mound for the nine-inning championship game and tossed shutout ball until the eighth inning when he surrendered a three-run homer in a four-run inning. Paxton then gave way to Brian Jones who mopped up the victory in the final 1 1/3 innings.
The Patriot offense had staked Paxton to a 6-0 lead with three runs in the third inning, two more in the fourth and one in the fifth frame. Kaleb Henry delivered the big hit in the third inning with a two-run single with two outs. Henry had three hits for the game, as did Dean. Landers had two hits and two runs scored.
Paxton struck out seven and walked two while allowing seven hits. Jones retired all four batters he faced in relief. He never allowed the tying run to reach the plate, getting two groundouts and a fly out in the ninth inning, touching off the Patriot celebration for the first baseball national championship in school history.