Small College Sports

Cornell primed for first NCAA Division III baseball regional appearance

Rams won 4 elimination games for first conference tournament title and automatic berth

Conrell's Caleb Wichman (5) pitches during a game against Coe at Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Conrell's Caleb Wichman (5) pitches during a game against Coe at Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

Play your best. Forget the rest.

Let’s consider that the family-friendly version of the Cornell College baseball team’s rally cry to focus on themselves and not opponents and other factors.

“It’s on us,” Rams Coach Seth Wing said. “We can do it. We control it. Don’t worry about anyone else but us.”

Cornell’s attitude helped produce a rare four elimination-game run for its first Midwest Conference tournament title and berth in the NCAA Division III baseball tournament. The Rams will compete in a regional hosted by Washington (Mo.) University in St. Louis, beginning Friday.

Fourth-seeded Cornell (26-17) opens against top-seeded and fifth-ranked Washington (31-5-1) at 10 a.m. Second-seeded and 17th-ranked Coe (34-5) faces No. 3-seed Aurora (Ill.) (32-9) in the other first-round game at 1:30 p.m.

“It’s pretty amazing, especially for this year’s seniors, who have been at the school for the last four years,” senior Caleb Wichman said. “All of our hard work has paid off. It’s a great opportunity for us, for our school and a couple other Iowa schools in regionals, too.”

The Rams are playing with house money, so to speak. Cornell isn’t content with just making an appearance and program history.

“Everybody thinks we’re just happy to be there,” Wing said about the Rams, who are 16-6 since April 13. “We’re super excited. We feel we can be competitive.”

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The Rams staved off an end to their season with an impressive performance at the MWC tournament. They rebounded from an opening-game loss with four straight victories. Cornell beat Monmouth, which won the South Division regular-season title, and avenged the loss to Chicago.

Cornell rolled in consecutive games against Ripon in the final. The Rams trailed by four before an 11-run sixth, en route to a 21-13 win in the first game. Cornell claimed the second game, 8-2, leading throughout and capping the streak.

The Rams knew they had the depth, talent and determination and Wing said he is proud of how they responded.

“With the leadership our upperclassmen have shown all year, they’ve really willed themselves to this position,” Wing said. “It’s fantastic.

“We’ve been in the conference tournament five of the last six years, but it’s always been just right there. We just have never taken that next step, so this one was special because we were able to do that.”

The postseason success has been a total team effort. Wing noted key contributions from starters Kyler Steinborn and Connor McDonald, whose complete games allowed Cornell a full pitching staff for the deep tournament run.

Lucas Larson and Cale Jamesson have been key leaders and both hit over .400 in the postseason. Jamesson has driven in 50 runs and has a school record for doubles.

“(Larson) has kept the guys together,” Wing said. “He’s always happy-go-lucky with an unbelievable personality and great communication skills.

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“(Jamesson) is in the middle of the order. He solidifies the lineup. He gives us great at-bats.”

None have been bigger than Wichman, who garnered MWC South Division Player of the Year honors. He made just one regular-season start and got the nod for the decisive game against Ripon. Wichman, normally a center fielder, threw a complete game, giving up just two earned runs.

Wichman, the Rams’ all-time hits leader, has a team-best .391 batting average and .475 on-base percentage, 66 hits and 48 runs.

“For me, it’s just knowing what pitch I want and not really chasing too much,” Wichman said. “I have to give a lot of credit to our coaches for putting in the time and making sure my swing is in order.”

The Rams are a tight-knit team. Wichman said they play with a passion for the game and fight for each other and the results have shown it. Their belief in the unofficial team motto is apparent and one they will recite this weekend.

“You always stay positive and focus on us,” Wichman said. “No matter who you’re playing you have to have the same mindset and compete.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8679; kj.pilcher@thegazette.com

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