Chapman baseball defends SCIAC title, heads to Minnesota for NCAA regional

The Chapman University baseball program is back in the NCAA tournament, looking to defend its 2019 Division III national title.

Sophomore Grant Manning pitched a complete game five-hitter as top-seeded Chapman defeated second-seeded Cal Lutheran, 8-2, on Sunday at Hart Park in Orange to clinch its third consecutive SCIAC Tournament title.

Just as they did in 2019, the Panthers (13-4) swept their way through the SCIAC postseason event to earn the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Division III field, which has been reduced to 48 teams for 2021. Chapman outlasted fourth-seeded Redlands, 7-6, in 10 innings on Friday, then defeated Cal Lutheran, 5-2, on Saturday to reach the final.

Chapman next heads to a six-team, double-elimination regional at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., where it will face UT-Dallas on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. PT in its opener. The Panthers are the fifth seed for the event, and UT-Dallas is the No. 2 seed. St. Thomas (Minnesota), is the top seed at the regional and will open against sixth-seeded Scranton (Penn.). Third-seeded York (Penn.) meets fourth-seeded Pacific (Oregon) in the other opener.

The tournament concludes May 31, with the regional champion advancing to the NCAA Division III World Series in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where eight teams will compete in another double-elimination tournament from June 4-9 to decide the national champion. There was no postseason in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just a week after Manning struck out nine Cal Lutheran hitters in a 10-inning victory, he came through with a 10-strikeout effort in the first complete game of his career.

The Kingsmen (9-12) struck first when Nick Fusari led off the game with a triple and scored on Kyle Reuser’s RBI single, and they added another run in the third inning, but Manning settled in after that. He struck out the side in the fourth and retired 10 in a row from the fourth through the seventh as Chapman took its first lead. Thanks to a pick-off and a double play in the later innings, Manning faced the minimum over the final five innings.

Trailing 2-1 in the fifth, Chapman senior Henry Zeisler singled to start the inning and then stole second. Senior Mack Cheli followed with a double to tie the score. A bunt single from Cooper Foard put runners on corners and Cheli scored the go-ahead run as Cal Lutheran turned a double play.

Drew Littwin’s RBI single in the sixth made it 4-2, then the Panthers broke the game open with a four-run eighth, highlighted by Kyle Joye’s three-run double.

Manning was named the SCIAC Tournament MVP.

The Chapman University baseball team celebrates after defeating Cal Lutheran, 8-2, to win the SCIAC Tournament title on Sunday at Hart Park in Orange. The Panthers are headed to a six-team, double-elimination NCAA Division III regional in Collegeville, Minn., where they hope to keep alive their chance to defend their 2019 national championship. (Photo by Larry Newman, courtesy of Chapman Athletics)

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