Maroons make NCAA “Final Four” before falling to W&J


The Roanoke College baseball team poses for a photo at the Division III World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The “Cinderella” Roanoke College baseball season came to an end Sunday, but the Maroons didn’t feel like they were riding back to Salem in a pumpkin. No one expected the Maroons to win their conference tournament this year, much less make the “Final Four” in NCAA Division III baseball.

Representing the South Region, Roanoke went 2-2 in the Division III World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin over the weekend. The Maroons upset the top seed, Oswego State, and also took a win over Concordia of Chicago before falling for the second time to Washington & Jefferson of Pennsyvlania.

“They were the best team we faced all year,” said Salem coach Matt McGuire. “They had talent and they were an experienced group.”

Roanoke had little post-season experience prior to this season. The Maroons had only made the ODAC tournament a couple times before this season, when they clinched the sixth seed on the final weekend of the regular season. Then they stunned the conference by winning the tournament, sweeping a doubleheader from Washington & Lee on the last day.

The dream continued when RC won the South Region in Danville, and the right to represent the region in the Division III World Series. By this time no one was surprised what the Maroons would do as they opened the World Series with an 8-7 win over top-seeded Oswego State on Friday. It was the first win ever for an ODAC team in the World Series.

Roanoke led 8-6 into the ninth when Oswego State loaded the bases with one out and pushed a run across on a sacrifice fly to make it an 8-7 game with two outs. That would be as close as the Lakers would get as Rawlings Cumbea got Eli Holton to fly out to Guida in right field and end the game.

Roanoke College ace John Ruhlman delivers.

Cumbea picked up his fifth save of the season after recording the final two outs. Sal Trancucci earned the win in relief after tossing 3.1 innings and allowing just two hits and one run, improving his record to 7-2 on the season.

Will Black finished the game 4-for-4 with two RBI and two runs scored for RC. Sean Guida and Scott Ellis each had three hits, while Dean Hermanson and Drew Mikula each had a pair. Hermanson had a home run for the Maroons.

On Saturday the Maroons suffered their first defeat in the double elimination tournament, an 11-1 loss to Washington & Jefferson. Starter Steven Loney (4-2) was tabbed with the loss, giving up five runs off five hits in 4.2 innings of work. Riley Groves (11-2) held the Maroons to only two hits and one run in 7.2 innings to earn the win. Sam Watson and Scott Ellis both went 1-for-2 for the Maroons, while Mikula drove in the only run.

On Sunday morning the Maroons bounced back with a 10-3 win over Concordia. After giving up two runs in the first, Roanoke closed the gap to one as Mikula hit a single to right center to score  Hermanson and make it a 2-1 game.

Roanoke then used a six-run third inning to take a 7-2 lead, sparked by an RBI walk from Will Decker. Hermanson kept the inning going with a double to left field plating Decker, Collier Donald and Sean GuidaWatson followed suit with a RBI single before Black plated Watson for the final run of the inning.

Senior catcher Will Black takes a turn at bat

Forrest Wagner (3-1) earned the win, allowing only four hits and three runs in 7.0 innings of work. Cameron Eck went 2.0 innings for RC allowing only two hits. Decker and Hermanson led the Maroons with three RBI and two hits each.

Now in the final four of the tournament, the Maroons were back on the field that evening and lost to Washington & Jefferson again, 8-1, to be eliminated from the tournament. Black went three for four in the loss.

Roanoke finished the season with a 35-19 record, eclipsing their previous high season win total by 12 wins. It was the third most wins by an ODAC team, tying Randolph-Macon and Shenandoah’s 35 wins from last season. Bridgewater’s 36 in 2014 is second, while SU’s  41 wins this season is an ODAC best.

The 10 man senior class closes its career with a total of 91 wins, setting the program’s season-win record in 2016 and then again in 2017.

“We’ll be even better next year,” said McGuire “We lose 10 seniors, but we have key pieces coming back. The biggest hole we’ll have to fill is at catcher. Will Black started for us for four years and he’s going to be hard to replace.”

Of course, when you make it to the World Series recruiting gets a little easier.

“This was a tremendous accomplishment for our program,” McGuire added. “The success validates what we’ve been doing, and this will open some doors for us. More talented players are going to want to come to Roanoke.”

Sean Guida fires one in from right.

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