APPLETON, Wis. — “There is no way they were taking me out of that game,” the tournament’s most outstanding player, Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Scott Plaza, said. “Tried to make them hit my stuff. I knew I had D behind me and if I did my job, they’re going to do their job.”
Plaza was flawless in the national finals, picking up two wins, tossing 16 innings without surrendering a run with 14 strikeouts.
“He was consistent,” Emory catcher Jared Welch said. “we never got comfortable in the box. No matter what the count was he could throw one of three or four pitches and in the strike zone. On the other hand, we had seven hits which is half our normal production and much less than our normal run production. We put a lot of balls in play, but they were at people. And that’s part of baseball.”
His ability to throw strikes, work quickly, and slow down the running game has been Plaza’s mantra throughout his career. In his two years with the Warhawks, Plaza has struck out 106 batters to just 19 walks. He spent his first two years at Harper College in with a 65-to-5 strikeout to walk ratio his junior year before jumping on board at Whitewater.
Emory came into the national title game hitting .355, averaging more than nine runs per game, stole 12 bases, and opposing team’s starting pitcher had lasted a total of 6.1 innings against the Eagle offense.
“We never had a chance to gain momentum,” Emory head coach Mike Twardoski said. “Their pitcher took it away from us and they made every play to stop our momentum.”
“He was about 60 percent,” joked Whitewater head coach John Vodenlich. “We talk a lot about giving 100 percent of whatever you have. If his 100-percent was 75 percent that’s good enough for me.”
Up 7-0 in the final inning, on a full count Plaza forced one of the tournament’s hottest hitters, Emory’s Phillip Maldari to line out to center field securing the national title. And the celebration ensued with gloves, hats, and bodies flying near the mound which Plaza tossed the first shutout in a national title game since 2002.
“Me and Mikole [Pierce] actually talked about it earlier in the day and he said, ‘I’m coming for you,’ and he said I better be scared,” Plaza recalls, “so first thing I did when the ball went up was look at him and get ready to get hit…and yeah he got me.”
A major storyline all week has been the Whitewater athletic program completing a ‘triple crown’ of sorts winning national championships in football, men’s basketball, and baseball in the same school year for the first time in NCAA history for any level. Following Pierce’s takedown of Plaza, Pierce doesn’t expect Warhawk football coach John Leipold to be seeking him out anytime soon.
“Oh, I got him,” Pierce said of the celebration, “But, I don’t know about that. I can’t wrap up.”
“Scott is a pretty big guy,” laughed fellow All-American Jared Fon.
All laughs and smiles, Fon, Pierce, and Plaza spoke highly about their head coach, the program, and the Whitewater tradition. Admittedly, they didn’t fall into any baseball superstitions in the final game as they let Plaza be himself in the dugout.
“I mean, I’m one of the louder guys on the team,” Plaza said, “so it’s hard to keep me quiet.”
“I stay on the other side of the dugout,” joked Pierce, an All-American shortstop.
“Nothing really changes when he pitches,” Fon said, “he doesn’t really care if we talk to him.”
But things started heating up when discussing the UW-Whitewater baseball annual Steak Series. In the final week of fall ball, the team splits into two full rosters and play a seven game series. The losing team has to buy the other steaks.
“I won,” Pierce proclaimed, “I haven’t lost yet. I’m still undefeated.”
“I don’t remember,” said Fon, “I think I’ve been on the losing team three of my four years playing in it.”
“[I was on the] losing team,” said Plaza, “but if you don’t remember you were on the winning team because you didn’t’ have to buy.”
Fon followed up on the theme of having fun by advising young players, “Don’t take it so serious. We had a talk about getting back to square one and having some fun. When you have some fun, things go a lot better.”
Fon and Pierce were each named to the ABCA All-American team in 2014 before earning their first athletic championship and sought playing at Whitewater for exactly that reason.
“I didn’t really have any other schools interested in me,” Fon said, “and I was trying to play somewhere that had a chance to win a national championship. … It’s the best way to go out. National champion and an All-American, can’t go out any better way.”
“I wanted to come here because they have a great reputation for baseball,” Pierce said. “I wanted to come in and win a championship. Everyone wants to get that ring on their finger.”
And that seems to have worked out just fine for Whitewater’s two All-Americans. As for seniors Plaza and Fon, they both look to continue playing ball by jumping on somewhere this summer as neither feels their career is nearly finished.
“Not the real world,” Plaza said about future plans. “I want to play baseball as long as I possibly can and that’s what I’m looking for right now.”
While Fon and Plaza lived out the dream of finishing their career in celebration, Pierce has another year and is excited about the future.
“It’s a great point to build on,” Pierce said, “with so many freshman on this team, that’s just a great experience for young guys to get.”
The Warhawks finished the season with 11 consecutive wins, sweeping through the NCAA regionals and Finals en route to their second national title, adding to their Athletic department dynasty in NCAA Division III.
“We say it all the time. ‘Twenty sports but one team,’” said Dylan Friend in regards to the schools numerous national titles, “and that’s exactly what it is.”
“It’s a special one for me,” Vodenlich continued on his second national title. “My father was with me last time I won , he’s not with us anymore. I want to dedicate this to my family first and foremost, then my extended family, the Warhawk family, which is very special to me, and then ultimately the players. I may be the coach, but they’re the ones on the field and I kind of felt like I didn’t do much today. So I want to dedicate it to them.”