GRAND CHUTE, Wisc. — On this crucial occasion, one run was all SUNY Cortland pitcher Seth Lamando needed.
To get the NCAA Division III World Series underway on Friday morning at Fox Cities Stadium, Lamando’s mound stinginess and a seventh inning home run off the bat of shortstop Paul Dondero carried the Red Dragons to a 1-0 victory over Emory College.
After having just been named the 2016 Division III National Pitcher of the Year by the web site D3baseball.com earlier in the week, the unbeaten and unflappable Lamando came up with a complete game six-hitter featuring 10 crucial strikeouts for the defending national champions.
That sends Cortland (42-6) into a Pool A showdown with Trinity (40-3) that has been moved to a Sunday morning start, at 10 a.m. Central Time. Trinity, out of Texas, was an 8-0 winner over Wisconsin-La Crosse in the other opening contest played yesterday.
Both Pool B games — St. John Fisher (38-11) vs. Keystone (37-9) and Wisconsin-Whitewater (35-14) vs. LaRoche (41-10) — were postponed and will be played this morning.
Lamando won a mound duel over Emory’s Jackson Weeg, improving to 10-0 on the season with a staggering low 0.72 earned run average. The senior right-hander has not allowed a run in his last 21 and a third innings of post-season pitching.
“I thought you witnessed two young men pitch unbelievable baseball, considering the circumstance,” said Cortland head coach Joe Brown, as both Lamando and Weeg had to withstand a two-hour rain delay that arrived after three scoreless innings of play.
“To go out there and do what they did was borderline amazing,” added Brown. “To have a couple of hours delay and both of them out and and toe the rubber for nine innings I thought was a pretty special baseball game. Fortunately for us, we basically got one more play.”
That would be Dondero’s home run, his fourth of the season, that came two outs into the seventh. Dondero’s shot over the fence in left was one of only six hits allowed by Weeg, who came into the game with a 7-0 record for the Eagles out of Atlanta.
“As a competitor, it stinks to lose a game like this,” said Emory head coach Mike Twardoski, whose team now faces Wisconsin-La Crosse in an elimination contest today.
LAMANDO DID NOT exactly coast to victory, as the Eagles had runners aboard in all but one inning and left nine stranded on the day. “We’re never worried because he’s never worried,” said Coach Brown of those jams Lamando handled.
Emory loaded the bases in the second inning when a Philip Maldari two-out single was followed by a hit batter and a walk. Lamando got a strikeout to end that threat.
The Eagles also had runners reach second base in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings. Lamando got a strikeout and flyout to end the fourth, and strikeouts closed out the seventh and eighth.
The biggest Cortland defensive play came in the bottom of the ninth after Emory’s Nick Chambers led off with an infield single. Chris Young followed with a liner that Red Dragons first baseman Austin Clark snared, stretching out to get to the bag before Chambers returned to come up with a crucial double play.
Lamando then closed out the victory with his 10th strikeout to wrap up his first complete game shutout of the season.
Emory had turned two double plays over the opening two innings helping Weeg out, too.
Cortland’s defense provided errorless support to the ace of the pitching staff, with two eye-opening plays before Clock’s timely double play.
Third baseman Steven Figueroa came up with a bare-handed play in the fourth, his off-balanced throw on a slow chopper ending the sixth inning. Dondero made a diving stop and throw from his knees for the first out in the eighth, too.
But overcoming the lengthy rain delay may have been the toughest thing Lamando had to handle.
“MY MAIN FOCUS was to stay mentally in the game,” said Lamando, who also got stretched out by trainer Pat Deedy to stay limber during the two-out delay.
“The main thing was to stay focused on what your job is from the start,” he added. “It’s respect for the game, honestly, and I respect the other pitcher as well. It’s tough to do. It could have gone two ways there at the end of the rain delay. Just (be) mentally prepared, that’s the thing I focused on.”
Dondero was just looking “for a strike” in his terms, coming up to the plate after Austin Clock and Conrad Ziemendorf had made quick outs in the seventh. Told to slow things down and take a strike by Coach Brown, he then smacked the second pitch over the wall for the game’s lone run.
“Anybody that scored first in this game would have very good momentum because you’re facing two good pitchers,” said Coach Brown. “You’re not going to get seven, eight, nine runs right now in the first couple of games.”
Cortland designated hitter Patrick Schetter finished 2-for-3 with a double to lead the Cortland offense. Maldari ended 2-for-3 with a walk to pace the Eagles.