APPLETON, Wis. -- The Texas Lutheran Bulldogs will play for an NCAA Division III Baseball national championship Tuesday after dispatching Concordia University Chicago 5-4 in the Pool B final Monday at Fox Cities Stadium.
Junior right-hander Dylan Murrell closed out the victory, coaxing the Cougars into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play turned by senior second baseman Ben Marvin and senior shortstop Eric Rabinowitz.
The game-winning hit for TLU came in the bottom of the eighth as sophomore slugger Tyler Cauley hit a majestic solo home run over the left-field wall.
"We were fortunate that Tyler got a hold of one, and he has been clutch all year," said Burnett, who celebrated his birthday with an early Monday morning elimination-game win over Concordia and then celebrated a Monday afternoon victory that sends TLU into the national championship series against the University of Texas at Tyler.
Cauley's home run was his only hit of the day against Concordia. He belted his second home run of the World Series and his 12th of the season.
"Going into the at-bat I was kind of struggling throughout the day, barely missing balls and stuff," said Cauley. "I talked to Riley Schaefer right before the at-bat, and he said, 'Just trust what you know, and see what pitch you can get right over the plate, and just let it fly.' Right when I hit it, I knew it was gone."
TLU gets a familiar foe in the championship round. The Bulldogs will face former conference opponent and regional rival UT Tyler, the Pool A winner after defeating Randolph-Macon (Va.) in their pool's "if necessary" game.
"It goes to show what kind of baseball is being played in Texas," said Burnett, when asked about the all-Texas D3 championship series.
The first national championship game in the best-of-three series starts at 11 a.m. Tuesday. The second championship game also takes place Tuesday, about 35 minutes after the first contest. The "if necessary" championship game would be played at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
TLU takes a 42-10 record into the national championship round. The Patriots are 38-18 and 3-0 against TLU in 2018.
The Patriots, out of the American Southwest Conference, defeated TLU three times in a series at TLU's Katt-Isbel Field in Seguin, Texas on Feb. 23-24.
The Bulldogs defeated Concordia Chicago twice over the course of two days to set-up a meeting with UT Tyler. The Cougars finish in a tie for third nationally and end the year at 40-15.
TLU, in its first-ever NCAA DIII World Series, won three consecutive elimination games in Pool B to advance to the best 2-of-3 series with UT Tyler. The Bulldogs went 4-1 in the Pool B bracket.
The Bulldogs rallied from three runs down Monday against Concordia. TLU fell behind 2-0 after one and 3-0 after four.
TLU came back with three runs in the bottom of the fifth and took the lead briefly, 4-3, with a run in the sixth.
In the fifth, Chad Curtis and Spencer Brandt hit back-to-back singles. Rabinowitz followed with an RBI double down the right-field line.
Schaefer brought TLU even at 3-3 with a two-RBI single up the middle that scored Brandt and Rabinowitz.
TLU took its first lead when Keaton Boysen scored on a Matt Lemon single down the right-field line. Boysen doubled with one out in the inning.
The Cougars countered with a run in the seventh.
Senior right-hander Dylan Drgac started on the mound for TLU and allowed two runs in the first inning. Drgac struck out the last two Cougars to leave the bases loaded in the top of the first. The Cougars pushed another run across in the fourth on a Jose Mercado single to center.
Drgac went five innings and surrendered three earned runs. He struck out six.
All-American closer Mike Formella got the start for Concordia. The Bulldogs faced Formella in each of the two previous contests against the Cougars. Formella went six innings and allowed nine hits and four earned runs.
Every batter in the Bulldog lineup had at least one hit against Concordia pitching. TLU's top three batters in the lineup - Schaefer, Marvin and Varner - each went 2-for-4.
The Bulldogs received quality relief outings from Cade Killingsworth and Drew Waller. Killingsworth tossed the sixth and the seventh and Waller worked a scoreless eighth before notching the win, improving to 7-2 overall.
Murrell allowed a lead-off single in the ninth before getting a fly-out to right and the double-play ball. Murrell collected his sixth save of the year.
TLU Athletics has not played for a team sport national championship in a one-on-one game setting since 1981, when the Bulldogs' women's volleyball team played for the AIAW-II national title. The Bulldogs finished as the national runner-up that year.
The Bulldogs have never won an NCAA Division III team sport national championship.
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