Sam Broderson was averaging a little more than one inning per outing. Grayson Chapman carried a .186 batting average into Saturday’s national championship baseball game.
But this was a season when most of what Wingate head baseball coach Jeff Gregory did worked out.
And in the NCAA Division 2 title contest Saturday in Cary, Broderson and Chapman made their coach look like a genius.
Broderson, a freshman closer, worked five innings of no-hit ball, and Chapman delivered a key pinch-hit double, as Wingate beat top-ranked Central Missouri 5-3 and captured its first national championship in baseball.
The Bulldogs (39-13) didn’t do it the easy way.
They lost their opening game Tuesday, then won elimination games four straight days against teams ranked 15th or better. In so doing, they became the first team in 16 years — since Florida Southern in 2005 — to battle back from an opening-round loss and win the championship.
Armed with a host of Charlotte-area players, the Bulldogs completed a title run in which they twice blew leads in the late innings, only to rally for victories. On Saturday, the script went a little differently.
This time, the Bulldogs went ahead 4-3 in the fifth inning — and stayed ahead.
When starting pitcher Hunter Dula got into trouble in the fifth, Gregory called on Broderson.
A freshman right-hander from the Orlando area, Broderson retired the Mules (46-8) in the fifth on a strikeout and a double play.
Then he retired Central Missouri 1-2-3 in the sixth … in the seventh … and the eighth.
Gregory decided to stick with his closer, and it paid off.
Through five innings of relief, Broderson allowed one runner — on a walk in the top of the ninth. The Mules never got a potential tying run in scoring position.
Of course, Broderson got a little extra cushion in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to another of Gregory’s decisions.
Jed Bryant opened the seventh with an infield single. With one out, Gregory sent Grayson Chapman to the plate as a pinch-hitter.
Chapman, who played high school ball at Alexander Central High, had not batted in Wingate’s five games at the College World Series. He was carrying a .186 batting average.
But he clobbered the first pitch off Central Missouri ace Conor Dryer off the wall in right center field. Bryant scored, and Chapman landed at second with a double.
That extended Wingate’s lead to 5-3, giving Broderson a bit more of a cushion.
The only slight hint of trouble for Wingate’s relief ace came in the ninth. With two out, Broderson walked Brennen van Breusegen, but he ended the drama by striking out Scott Wolverton.
It was the second game of the day for Central Missouri. The Mules’ semifinal contest Friday night with defending D2 champion Tampa was suspended due to a thunderstorm and restarted at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Mules won 3-1 and got about a 90-minute break before the 2 p.m. title contest.
Wingate scored its first two runs in the third inning, thanks to three Central Missouri errors. McCann Mellett (Charlotte Catholic) and Michael Dansky (Providence) each came home on miscues.
After Central Missouri went up 3-2, Wingate took the lead in the bottom of the fifth when Crest High’s Logan McNeely singled home Mellett, and later scored himself on a single by Gehrig Christopher (East Rutherford).
▪ Wingate athletic officials put out a call Friday evening for Bulldog fans to attend Saturday’s game in Cary. The fans responded. They filled the bleachers at the USA Baseball National Training Complex and covered a sizable amount of the grass berm beyond the outfield fence.
▪ Wingate’s only other NCAA Division 2 championship came in 2016, via the men’s soccer team.
▪ Gehrig Christopher, who drove in what proved to be the winning run, is the grandson of the late Ron Christopher, legendary baseball coach at Wingate for more than 30 years.
▪ It was Wingate’s first appearance in the baseball championship game, but Central Missouri was in the finals for the fourth time. The Mules won the Division 2 title in 1994 and 2003.
▪ Wingate was the third North Carolina team to reach the championship game. Mount Olive won the national title in 2008, and Catawba lost in the finals six years ago.
▪ Wingate’s Logan McNeely, of Crest High, had 12 hits in the College World Series and batted .462.
▪ As top seed in the College World Series, Central Missouri played twice in the first six days, then three times in the final two days.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle