‘For the longest time, it felt like we couldn’t lose’: Baseball squashes Wartburg to finish regular season 28-3
The Washington University baseball team concluded its regular season on Saturday with a doubleheader sweep of Wartburg College, leaving the Bears with a 28-3 record as they await results of next week’s postseason selection show.
The team won the first game 7-1 and the second game 9-3 in a day that showcased the long-established pitching strength of Wash. U.’s starters and an offense that has truly found its stroke this year. And at the end of a long day for the Bears—the two games lasted more than eight hours thanks to lengthy rain delays—they did not even stop at a hotel for a shower. The bus drove through the night from Iowa and pulled into Washington University at 3 a.m. on Sunday morning in an arrival that seemed to encapsulate the season: playing—and winning, for the most part—under any circumstances necessary.
The wins this weekend cap off a standout regular season for the Bears, as they retain the top spot in the national rankings headed into the postseason. Wash. U. finished undefeated at home and won against some other top teams in the nation, including Webster University and Aurora University.
While they are not guaranteed an automatic bid spot in the NCAA postseason due to the University Athletic Association not having a conference tournament, head coach Pat Bloom is confident that the Bears will be rewarded for their strength of schedule and their high win percentage. “We stacked up, in my opinion, with anybody in the country, across the board, not just in terms of record but all the other data points that matter,” he said. The Division III baseball selection show, where the Bears will find out officially if they have earned an at-large bid, is on May 23.
“This year, it felt more automatic to where for the longest time, it felt like we couldn’t lose,” said senior pitcher Troy Bauer, who struck out seven in the second game Saturday. “It just felt like winning was just the thing to expect on the day. And even if we had a bad day, it was just winning by less as opposed to winning by more.”
Despite the wins, the Bears have suffered setbacks this season, including losing two out of three games against Buena Vista, an unranked team in Iowa. But Bauer called those a “misstep as opposed to a serious problem”—the team has outscored their opponents 62 to 17 in the games following that loss.
Other teams across the nation are playing in their conference tournament this weekend, so the Bears are unique in that they have a weekend of downtime before regionals if granted a spot. It will be their first weekend without a game since March 6, but Bloom is confident that intrasquad scrimmages can maintain arm endurance and keep a sharp competitive edge. “The competitive side of things is the way in which we design practices to mimic the different competitive situations we’re going to face, which’ll be pretty crucial this week,” said Bloom.
In a normal year, regionals would be held one week earlier, so this is not a situation Bloom has encountered before as a coach. But there are a few silver linings: student-athletes have more time to decompress after exams, and unlike most years, the team’s seniors can attend their graduation.
The last playoff regionals, in 2019, ended with a devastating ninth-inning loss against Coe College after coming a strike away from advancing. “There’s a lot of coulda-woulda-shoulda’s with that game being a one-run game like that,” said Bauer, who pitched the first five innings in the game. Still, however heartbreaking that loss may have been, Bloom said the hope is that post-season loss in 2019 will pay dividends now. There is significant overlap between the 2019 team and the current lineup, including Bauer, shortstop Caleb Durbin and pitchers Ryan Loutos and Jared Fong. “We’re more veteran and battle-tested as a group,” Bloom said. “That experience, whether they played a big role or not, matters when you get back. You just can’t put a price on having been there before.”
Looking back on how the Bears made it to the end of the season: