DuBOIS — Mission accomplished.
Three years ago Tom Calliari revived the Penn State DuBois baseball program with one ultimate goal in mind — lead a group of high character players to a national championship.
Calliari and his Nittany Lions fulfilled that dream Thursday in front of a large hometown crowd at Showers Field — winning the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Small College World Series crown the hard way against perennial power the Apprentice School, which has appeared in every World Series since 2000.
Penn State DuBois, the No. 6 seed, entered Thursday as the lone undefeated team but suffered 4-3 loss to the second-seeded Builders in first national title game early. The Lions spoiled a strong start by Austin Amacher, who got a no decision after allowing three earned runs on six hits in eight innings of work. He struck out seven and walked three.
The tough loss seemed to suck some life out of the Nittany Lions on a hot afternoon. However, a second-inning solo home run by Clayton Butler and a third-inning grand slam by Joey DiPietro quickly reignited the Lions. DiPietro, who finished the second game 2-for-4 with five RBIs, was named the Small College World Series Most Valuable Player.
“This was a special week for us,” said DiPietro. “We were doubted coming in to this thing getting the six seed, and we just kept battling. Every game was a tight game, and we just kept battling as a team. Losing that first one, we knew we weren’t going to lose two in a row.
“It felt great to hit the grand slam to help the team win. We’ve been working all year for this all though the winter with the 6 a.m. workouts just for this moment. And, it feels great.”
Butler also earned All-Tournament honors along with senior teammate Dan Bowman.
Those five runs proved to be more than enough for starter Brandon Orsich and a pair of relievers as the Nittany Lions slowly pulled away to win the national title with a lopsided 10-2 victory. DuBois is just the second Penn State University Athletic Conference (PSUAC) team in any sport to win a USCAA national championship, joining the 2015 Penn State Beaver womens basketball program.
Orsich, making his first game appearance in a month and a half because of an arm injury, gave his team seven strong innings. He gave up two earned runs on eight hits while striking out four and walking two.
John White relieved Orsich in the eighth and tossed a scoreless inning, while Bryce Hanley did the same in the bottom of the ninth — getting the final out on a groundout to send the Nittany Lions and their faithful into a frenzy. Both White and Hanley allowed a run.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, a couple months now,” said Orsich of getting back on the mound. “I just trusted everybody from coach to our trainers and my doctor, and it just feels really good and was worth the wait.
“I was asking for the ball in the eighth and wanted to go the whole way. But, I was just really hoping to hold up because I hadn’t thrown (in game) for so long. They (Builders) are a great club and were the No. 2 seed for a reason.They led the nation in all the hitting statistics all year, so it’s great to come in and pitch like this against a team like them.
“I’m just so happy for the guys, especially the seniors Caleb Bennett and Dan Bowman, and even Talon Falls who is leaving to got to (Penn State) Behrend next year. I’m just so happy for them because they deserve it.”
Coming off the tough opening loss Thursday, Butler’s second-inning solo blast off Builders starter Alec Wonders seemed to calm the team down. Orsich then stranded two runners in the bottom of the second before DuBois broke the game open in the top of the third.
Brandon Gettig led off the inning with an infield single but was quickly erased on a failed sac bunt attempt that left Garrett Brown at first. Wonders then hit Toner Corl before Talon Falls singled to load the bases. That brought DiPietro to the the plate, and he launched a Wonders offering over the center field fence for a grand slam to put the Lions up 5-0.
Orsich put up a quick zero in the bottom of the third, but the Builders finally got to the Lion in the fourth.
Gevin Nixon walked with one out before Dalton Dye and Brett Byrum each singled to load the bases. Darius Harris followed with a single of his own to right to plate a pair of runs to cut the DuBois lead to 5-2.
Orsich promptly got out of the inning when got Cole Jackson to hit into a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play. DuBois’ defense turned five double plays between the two games to help out its pitchers.
DuBois got one of those runs right back in the top half of the fifth.
Corl got things rolling with a one-out double, while Falls was hit by a pitch. Corl was erased at third on a fielder’s choice, but Vince McDowell followed with a walk to load the bases. Butler then ripped a single to center to score Falls to make it 6-2.
The Lions defense came up huge in the bottom half of the inning.
Builder James Williams led off the inning with a single, but was promptly picked off first by Orsich. Teammate Mike Brumfield followed with a single to left but was gunned down at second on a close play trying to stretch the hit into a double. Williams, Apprentice’s third baseman, was ejected between innings as he continued to argue the call coming back out to play defense.
DuBois added to its lead with a run in the sixth when Caleb Bennett drew a leadoff walk and later scored on a double play. The Lions returned the favor in the bottom of the sixth as Builder Dalton Dye lined into a double play to end the frame.
DuBois then tacked on two more runs in the top of the seventh.
Falls led off the inning with double and scored on a single to right-center by DiPietro. Thayne Morgan came on to run for DiPietro and quickly stole second before going to third when McDowell reached on an infield single that took a tricky hop over the first baseman’s head.
Butler then plated a run on a fielder’s choice to put the Lions up 9-2. Butler was 2-for-5 with the homer and three RBIs.
Apprentice got a leadoff double from Byrun in the bottom of the seventh, but Orsich retired the next three hitters to strand Byrum at second in what proved to be his final inning of work.
DuBois scored its final run in the eighth.
Bennett beat out an infield single to open the inning and raced around to third when a late throw went down the right field line. He scored one batter later when Gettig grounded out.
White and Hanley did the rest from there on the mound to help deliver Penn State DuBois its first national championship in its third trip to the World Series in as many years.
Corl, Falls and Gettig joined DiPietro and Butler in having two hits in the title-clinching victory.
As for the opener, it turned out to be a classic pitchers’ duel between Amacher and Builder Luke Schanback, with runs coming at a premium despite both teams having a couple solid scoring chances.
DuBois grabbed a quick 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Brown drew a leadoff walk. He later hustled home from third on what turned out to be a sac fly to the second baseman when Builder Nixon made a catch running away from the infield near the foul line.
Apprentice got that run right back in the top of the second on a run-scoring single by Dye before Amacher got Byrum to hit into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play.
The score remained 1-1 deep into the game, with the Builders finally getting to Amacher for a pair of runs in the eighth. Callairi elected to intentionally walk Maxwell Burcham, the USCAA Player of the Year, with a runner on second, but Cody Hendrickson followed with a two-run double to put Apprentice up 3-1.
DuBois answered right in the bottom of the eighth though.
Corl led off with a single, while Falls walked — spelling the end for Schanback. Brumfield came on in relief and got two quick outs, but Butler delivered a huge two-out, two-run double to left-center to knot the game at 3-3.
With the game tied, DuBois elected to bring Bennett in for the final inning — just as they did Wednesday against Cleary in the winners’ bracket finals.
However, the Builders managed to squeeze out a run against DuBois’ ace when then Lions just missed turning another inning-ending double play. Instead, Dye scored what proved to be the game-winning run to force the if-necessary game. Dye had three hits in the win.
Corl and Bowman had two hits in the opener for DuBois.
“We definitely did it the hard way,” said Calliari. “Austin Amacher deserved a better fate in the first and was tremendous for us. We just didn’t put some hits together.
“But, Brandon Orsich is an absolute gamer. It’s a cliche, but Brandon Orsich is a guy who always wants the ball. You have to tell him he can’t pitch any more. He’ll throw it until his arm falls off. That was just all guts today.
“There are teams with a lot more talent, but we built our team on character and we won on character, and our kids and (assistant) coaches deserve all the credit for that.
“And, the crowd was unbelievable tonight. When I took the job three years ago, I told (athletic director) Ken Nellis in his office, ‘I want this, I want this, I want this.’ He goes you have to win and I said, ‘oh, we’re going to win.’
“My second goal was to unite this community with this program. And, as you see today, my vision came true, That’s what I’m more proud of.”