Dru Fitz came up an ace in University of Jamestown's biggest win of the college baseball season to date Tuesday, May 7, in Yankton, S.D.
The junior Jimmie from Gresham, Ore., retired the final 17 batters of the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship game in order, and by the end he had Concordia University's befuddled lineup swinging at just about anything.
Fitz and the Jimmies shutout Concordia (Neb.)-the regular-season GPAC champion-3-0 at Bob Tereshinski Stadium, the home of Mount Marty College. Jimmie baseball joined UJ men's basketball as GPAC conference tournament champions in Jamestown's first year in the conference.
"The last two or three innings I was struggling with my slider, to throw it for a strike," said Fitz, who tossed 96 pitches over nine innings and didn't allow a single walk. "But they were still swinging at it because I established it as a strike earlier in the game."
Fitz (6-2) had stellar command of his fastball throughout, which was key as he began mixing in his slider and curveball. He sat down the Bulldogs 1-2-3 in both the first and third innings, and after a Teyt Johnson single with one out in the fourth, Fitz and the Jimmies wouldn't allow another Bulldog to reach base.
"My fastball was going exactly where I wanted it to most of the time, so it was easy to get ahead of people," Fitz said. "And, I was able to throw my offspeed for a strike early in the game."
University of Jamestown baseball coach Tom Hager couldn't have asked for a better pitching performance. Jamestown was picked by GPAC coaches in the preseason to win the conference.
"Dru attacked the zone all day long, got ahead (in counts) and never walked anybody," Hager said. "That's a recipe for success, and our defense made some really nice plays.
"You mix pitching and defense, and you've got a chance to win a championship."
Concordia's left-handed ace, Jason Munsch, was up to the task early, striking out the first six UJ players to step into the batter's box. But UJ was able to manufacture its first two runs in the top of the fourth without a hit.
Chase Hacker walked to open the frame and moved to second on a balk, before scoring on what began as a Tanner Roundy sacrifice bunt fielded by the pitcher. Munsch wound up throwing wild to first base in an attempt to put out Roundy, and a second error was charged to CU second baseman Christian Meza on the throw home, which had no chance at getting Hacker out and allowed Roundy to move into scoring position at second.
"We didn't swing the bats particularly well today, give Concordia's pitchers credit for that," Hager said. "(Munsch) was really good to begin the game, but we were able to foul some pitches off, work some at-bats, get a few guys on and then capitalize on a few of their mistakes."
A wild pitch charged to Munsch later in the fourth moved Roundy up to third, and UJ's senior center fielder would score run No. 2 on an RBI groundout to second hit by UJ's Drake Pilat. Munsch struck out 16 Jimmies in a 3-2 victory over Jamestown on April 13 in Seward, Neb.
"It felt good," said Fitz, who finished with two strikeouts. "We were very confident coming into it that we could win the game, especially coming off the last half of our season. Our defense played great-had a lot of good plays that saved some hits-and our hitters did a good job of competing."
Roundy also scored UJ's third run in the ninth after singling and later crossing the plate on a wild pitch tossed by CU reliever Dylan DuRee. Roundy finished 1-for-2, while senior catcher Zach Zurbrugg (2-for-3) singled twice to account for all three of Jamestown's base hits.
"We really felt like that last run in the ninth was important, because I think it gave everybody a little more breathing room," Hager said. "It's an awesome feeling for all of our players and coaches, everybody that's involved with the program. You work really hard to get to this point and I'm so proud of how our guys played today."
Jamestown (35-16) was already qualified for nationals. The Jimmies will find out at 4 p.m. on Thursday their location and opponent for the upcoming 45-team NAIA Opening Round tournament, which begins Monday (May 13).
"We're playing really good baseball right now," Hager said. "I'm excited for our team no matter where we go and just glad we're able to make the next step."
The Jimmies could be boarding a flight for Santa Barbara, Calif. The closest of the nine host sites include Henderson, Tenn., Kingsport, Tenn., and Williamsburg, Ky.
"We're just ready to play ball," Fitz said. "It doesn't matter where we're going, we still gotta play the game the way we need to play it."
University of Jamestown 3, Concordia University 0
UJ 000 200 001 -- 3 3 0
CU 000 000 000 -- 0 4 3
Dru Fitz and Zach Zurbrugg. Jason Munsch, Ryan Samuelson (6), Tanner Wauhob (6) Dylan DuRee (9) and Ben Berg.
Highlights: UJ, Fitz 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO; Tanner Roundy 1-2, 2 R; Drake Pilat 0-2, RBI; Zurbrugg 2-3, Chase Hacker 0-2, 2 BB, R. CU, Munsch 5 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 SO; Wauhob 2.2 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 SO.
Records: Jamestown 35-16. Concordia 32-18.