Rams Eliminate Shippensburg In Sunday’s First Game

Winston-Salem State’s Randy Norris is mobbed by teammates as he heads to the dugout after a three-run home run during the Rams’ elimination-game victory over Shippensburg in the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional on Sunday afternoon at Diethrick Park. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

Randy Norris turned in the game of the weekend, Marcus McKoy was masterful in relief and never-say-die Winston-Salem State survived a shaky top of the ninth inning, thanks to a game-ending double play, to edge Shippensburg, 9-8, in the first game Sunday.

The Rams (38-18), who trailed 4-0 and 5-1, used a five-run fourth inning to seize the lead, highlighted by Norris’ three-run home run that cleared the “batter’s eye” in straight-away center field.

“The kid’s just getting better every day,” Coach Kevin Ritsche said. “He’s something special.”

Special indeed.

Combined with his two-run single in the bottom of the eighth — much-needed insurance, as it turned out — Norris entered the losers’ bracket final later in the day as one of the most-talked about players in the regional.

The umpire makes the out call as Winston-Salem State second baseman Ivan Acuna steps on second base for a double play after Shippensburg’s Cash Gladfelter was late getting back to the bag for the final out of Sunday afternoon’s game. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

But, as has been the case since Thursday, the Rams are getting contributions from a host of players. In addition to Norris’ five-RBI performance, Ivan Acuna had three hits, including a double and three runs scored; Emilio Abreu added two hits; and Landon Steiner smacked a double.

For Shippensburg (31-24-1), the end result was heartbreaking. So much so, in fact, that Coach Matt Jones respectfully declined, through a school spokesman, to speak to the media after the game.

Leading 3-0 after the first inning, highlighted by a two-run double by Dalton Hoiles and an RBI single by Drew Bene; 4-0 after an inning and a half, courtesy of a solo home run by Ryan McMillen; and 5-1 after three and half innings, thanks to a solo shot by Cash Gladfelter, the Raiders appeared to be rolling into a meeting with top-seeded Mercyhurst.

But, as they’ve done all tournament, the Rams didn’t quit, scoring an unearned run in the second inning and then erupting for five runs in the fourth, aided by some suspect Shippensburg defense.

Acuna led off the inning with a double, scored on a single by Abreu and, with two outs, Shippensburg’s inability to successfully handle routine plays in the infield, put two runners on and plated another run with Norris coming to the plate.

Winston-Salem State relief pitcher Marcus McKoy delivers to the plate Sunday afternoon. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

Facing starter Grant Hoover (4-2), Norris sent a drive to deep center that cleared the fence with room to spare to give Winston-Salem its first lead of the game, 6-5.

“He tattooed that one pretty good,” Ritsche said.

From there, McKoy (1-0) was brilliant out of the bullpen, hurling 4 2/3 shutout innings in relief of starter Kanoa Hironaka.

“He hasn’t thrown for three and a half or four weeks,” Ritsche said. He’s only a sophomore. … He came out and battled for us.”

The Rams appeared to put the game out of reach by scoring three runs in the eighth off Raiders’ reliever Andy Crum. Acuna led off with a single and, one out later, Steiner doubled. After Crum intentionally walked Randal Ortiz to load the bases, Michael Hope was brought out of the bullpen to face Michael McNamara. But on Hope’s first offering, he hit McNamara with a pitch to plate a run and improve the Rams’ lead to 7-5. One out later, Norris drilled a Hope pitch into right field, plating two more runs.

Shippensburg’s Tommy Baggett slides safely into home plate ahead of a tag from Winston-Salem State’s Michael McNamara during the ninth inning of Sunday’s elimination game at Diethrick Park. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

Armed with a 9-5 lead, Ritsche brought in his closer, Steiner, for the top of the ninth, but it was hardly a smooth finish to the game.

“We made things interesting,” Ritsche said.

Hoiles was hit in the helmet to lead off the inning and was replaced by pinch-runner Matt Ketterer before Bene worked a walk. After Steiner struck out Ty Painter, Tommy Baggett singled to load the bases.

The Raiders were just getting started.

Gladfelter was credited with an RBI after working a bases-loaded walk and then Ryan McMillen singled to left to plate two more runs, cutting the deficit to 9-8. With runners at first and second and one out, Nick Spangler lined a ball to left that Winston-Salem’s John Garcia caught and threw to second baseman Acuna who stepped on second base to double off Gladfelter, who had strayed too far off the bag, to end the game.

“We’re very thankful for taking advantage of the mistake they made there at the end,” Ritsche said. “If they don’t make that mistake, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But the young men from North Carolina found a way to survive and advance, setting up a meeting with Mercyhurst.

“We have one hour to catch our breath and go back out and try and piece things together with our pitching staff,” Ritsche said.

As it turned out, he had more time to piece things together than he planned as rain delayed Sunday’s second game after just 1ª innings. By the time play resumed, the Rams and Lakers had been sitting around for nearly four hours.