MASON, Ohio - Seeded seventh coming in to the tournament, Tiffin baseball defeated higher seeds four times, culminating in a 9-6 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan on Saturday to claim the Great Midwest Championship and earn their first-ever bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament.
The conference title is the first in Dragon baseball history, and it comes in their first year as a member of the GMAC.
During the regular season, Kentucky Wesleyan took three out of four from Tiffin, but the Dragons were able to turn the tables on the Panthers and defeat KWC twice in a row to earn the championship.
TU got on the board first in today's title game, as John Heckman notched an RBI sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first inning.
Leading off the bottom of the third, Aaron Gonzalez crushed a fastball well over the wall in left to ignite a furious Dragon rally. Cody Orr tripled and scored on a passed ball, and two walks and a sac bunt put runners on second and third for Jack Dennis. The senior promptly dropped a double down the left field line to score both runs and put Tiffin in front 5-0.
The Dragons were not done yet, as Nich Green walked and Kole Klasic scored Dennis with a single up the middle. Gonzalez came up again and notched his second hit of the inning with a single to load the bases, and Orr followed with a two-run single to score Green and Klasic, bringing Tiffin's third-inning total to seven runs and giving the Dragons an 8-0 lead.
Kentucky Wesleyan did not go away quietly, though, tallying four runs on four hits and a TU error in the top of the fourth. Neither team scored in the next three frames, as Tiffin still held on to an 8-4 advantage heading into the eighth. With two outs in the top of the eighth, the Panthers loaded the bases before a two-run single cut the Dragon lead to 8-6.
Michael Ross was called out of the pen to get the final out of the inning, and did just that, inducing a grounder to Campbell at shortstop, who flipped to Klasic for the out at second to end the threat. Tiffin was able to add one insurance run in the bottom of the frame, as Heckman singled home Orr to push the Dragon lead to three.
Needing just three outs for the title, Ross set down KWC in order on two groundouts and and a flyout to right, and the celebration was on.
It has been quite a run for TU, as it took a 3-1 series victory over Walsh in the last weekend of the regular season to reach the postseason after starting the year 2-17. The Dragons went 18-12 the rest of the way, and 17-15 in conference, earning the seven-seed. At the GMAC Championships, Tiffin took down #2 Ohio Dominican, #3 Trevecca Nazarene, and #5 Kentucky Wesleyan twice to claim the title.
Orr finished the day 3-3 with a walk, three runs scored, and two RBI. Heckman and Gonzalez notched two hits apiece, while Heckman and Dennis both recorded a pair of RBI. The Dragons were outhit 16-10 in the game, but the Panthers left 15 runners on base compared to eight for TU.
Jake Monnin got the start on the hill for Tiffin, going three-plus innings and allowing two runs on eight hits. Aaron George worked the fourth, allowing two runs (one earned), before giving way to Tyler Wehrle. The freshman pitched the next 3.2 frames, allowing two runs on five hits with three strikeouts and earning the win. Ross completed the four-out save, notching his second of the year.
Over the course of the four tournament games, the Dragons outscored their opponents 37-17 and outhit them 50-39. TU also recorded two doubles, one triple, and one home run in each of the last three games, and tallied 14 total extra-base hits in the champtionships.
The Dragons will enter the NCAA Regionals on a six-game win streak and as winners of eight of their last nine. TU awaits to see who, when, and where they will play when the NCAA announces the bracket on their website Sunday at 10 p.m.