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West Chester rolls to World Series title

Philadelphia’s infamous boo birds would have trouble finding fault with the West Chester University baseball team’s run to the 45th annual NCAA Division II World Series title.

The suburban Philadelphia school went unbeaten in four World Series games, winning the final 9-0 against Delta State on Saturday night before 2,663 fans who spilled onto the hillsides for the largest crowd of the eight-day event at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

The No. 9-ranked Rams (46-10) won their 12th straight game, their 13th win in 14 postseason games (4-0 World Series, 4-0 Atlantic Regional and 5-1 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference).

“It speaks to the leadership of our group,” West Chester coach Jad Prachniak said. “We had to beat the best teams to get here. All those teams have talent and we have talent. We had kids willing to play hard regardless of the circumstance.”

West Chester pitcher Joe Gunkel (10-1) tossed his second complete game shutout of the World Series, adding a five-hitter to flirting with a no-hitter in the first game that wasn’t broken up until the ninth. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was named the World Series MVP.

“I’m well aware he only had one strikeout, but he’s a big, strong pitcher who pounds the strike zone,” Delta State coach Mike Kinnison said. “He fills the strike zone and challenges you with is fastball.”

Second-ranked Delta State (49-15) finished 4-2 in the tournament, which the perennially powerful Statesmen from Cleveland, Miss., won as recently as 2004.

West Chester struck early with five runs in the bottom of the first inning off Delta State’s innings-depleted pitching staff.

Starter Colton Mitchell, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings in his first start, didn’t record an out before allowing four runs on three hits and two walks. He gave way to Ricky Winters, who yielded a hit and a fifth run charged to Mitchell and then another run in the second.

West Chester’s Chris Pula and Josh Heyne were both 2-for-4 with one run scored and two RBIs. Joe Wendle was 2-for-3 with two runs scored, Matt Baer was 1 of 3 with two RBIs and Justin Lamborn was 1-for-3 with one RBI.

West Chester is the first team from the Northeast to win a Division II World Series title and the first school from a northern state since Illinois State in 1969 (that’s if you don’t count the 2010 crown by Southern Indiana, which is closer to Kentucky than the Midwest’s Rust Belt).

“The advantage of the south is the weather and playing baseball year round,” said Prachniak. “But I also think we have plenty of talent in our neck of the woods, too.”

The Rams were playing in their first World Series final after having last advanced there in 2009.

Wendle finished the year batting .399 (.3989) while starting all 56 games. He scored 64 runs with 12 home runs and 59 RBIs.

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