College | Story | 6/4/2019

Chapman advances to championship

Annika Wall        
Photo: Jonathan Hernandez (Chapman Athletics)

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA – Chapman University had faced the University of Massachusetts-Boston twice already in the NCAA D-III College World Series, splitting the pair. But when it came to the semifinal elimination game, the No. 6 Panthers came back to defeat the No. 23 Beacons 8-4 and advance to the National Championship against Birmingham-Southern.  

While both teams battled hard at the plate, Chapman’s infield work was nearly spotless as they snagged line drives out of the air and forced three double plays across the game.

“In this game, we talk about ‘make your own luck’ sometimes,” Scott Laverty, Chapman head coach, said. “The balls were hit hard at people and we made plays.”

After starting pitcher Jonathan Hernandez struck out the Beacon’s leadoff batter with a curveball, Massachusetts got on the board with an Eddie Riley two-run shot over the left field fence. However, the Panthers struck back in the second inning off an RBI single by Mack Cheli and sacrifice fly by Drew Littwin. Chapman’s bats continued to stay hot, as they scored three runs in both the fourth and fifth innings.

Relying on the bottom of their lineup, a Littwin walk forced a defensive timeout. It didn’t faze Aaron Wong, though, who hit a two-run triple over the centerfielder’s head. Wong excelled on the defensive end too, preventing multiple Massachusetts hits from his position at second base.

“I give a lot of credit to our infield coach,” Wong said. “He does a lot of scouting before and has me in good positions as well as being focused. It hopes to know the pitch that’s coming. It gives me an idea of where the ball is going to go.”

The Panthers kept the momentum, using three hits to score a trio of runs in the fifth. Cheli highlighted the inning with a deep triple to right field before Laverty put on the suicide squeeze. Jarod Pennim set up for a bunt and Cheli dove safely into home.

“When I got the sign, I was taken aback for a second,” Cheli said. “If I had to guess that I would have hit a triple then stole home in the College World Series, I would have said you were lying.”

Even though Massachusetts scored one run in the sixth and eighth innings, it wasn’t enough to overcome the six-run deficit.

From the mound, Hernandez struck out five batters in eight innings while only walking one. Cody Turner came in relief in the ninth to fan one of his own. The Panther pitching staff collectively owns the D-III single-season strikeout record with 513 and counting.

“I can’t say enough about Jonathan,” Laverty said. “As he kept going, it was almost like this is his National Championship. He’s not going to pitch tomorrow, and I don’t know how he’ll be on Wednesday, but to get us to this point is huge.”

Hernandez had previously pitched against Washington & Jefferson in the first game of the College World Series. He brings his CWS record to 2-0, giving up an average of one hit per inning.

“Going into today, I knew that we didn’t have much left in the pen, so I figured just give it everything I got. Either live a hero or die a hero,” Hernandez said. “Just trying to give my team the best chance to win.”

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