This article was written by Roger J. Hawks
This article was published in the Spring 2014 Baseball Research Journal
Defiance College in northwestern Ohio has fielded a baseball team since 1905. Like most small colleges, Defiance places academics ahead of athletics, and the baseball team generally loses more games than it wins. The 1961 baseball season, however, was a shining exception. That season the Defiance College baseball team was invited to the NAIA national tournament. Defiance played only three games in the double-elimination tournament, but each of these games featured performances that had never before been seen in the tournament.
Defiance College in northwestern Ohio has fielded a baseball team since 1905. Like most small colleges, Defiance places academics ahead of athletics, and the baseball team generally loses more games than it wins.[fn]Through the 2013 season, the Defiance College baseball team has won 869 games and lost 1,049 with 11 ties.[/fn]
The 1961 baseball season, however, was a shining exception. That season the Defiance College baseball team was invited to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship Tournament. Defiance played only three games in the double-elimination tournament, but each of these games featured performances that had never before been seen in the tournament.
The Defiance College baseball team entered the 1961 season optimistic but uncertain. They had racked up a record of ten wins and three losses in each of the two previous seasons, winning the Mid-Ohio League Championship in 1959 and finishing second in 1960, but graduations and academic problems had left only seven lettermen returning for 1961.[fn]“College Nine Launches Season Here Monday,” Defiance Crescent-News, April 7, 1961.[/fn]
In addition, the team would be playing under a new coach. Former Michigan State star Bob Reising had been hired to coach baseball so that Merle McDonald could concentrate on his duties as Athletic Director. Eighteen players reported for the first practice. The roster was young with only two seniors and four juniors, and two of these were new to the team (See Table 1).
Table 1: 1961 Defiance College baseball roster
Reising worked his players hard to get them ready for the season. Letterman Mike Snyder, who also played on the Defiance College football team, recalled “He worked our fannies off in preseason. We could have gone straight into the Marine Corps.”[fn]Jack Palmer, “‘Just a bunch of farm boys’ playing ball,” Defiance Crescent-News, October 27, 2013.[/fn], [fn]Snyder coached both the football and baseball teams at Defiance College from 1974 to 1979.[/fn]
The 18-game schedule had twelve Mid-Ohio League games and six games with nearby traditional opponents. Playing baseball in early April in northern Ohio is not always pleasant and the first four games were postponed due to snow and rain. Nevertheless, all scheduled games were played. This is unusual for small college baseball, even today.
Defiance quickly dispensed with the uncertainty by winning their first 14 games, breaking the 1929 team’s record for most wins in a season. The team’s talent was apparent; the margin of victory was three or more runs in all but five of these games. The Defiance bats dominated in two non-conference games during the streak. The NAIA Defiance College Yellowjackets defeated the visiting Toledo University Rockets of the NCAA Mid-American Conference, 22–9. After seven innings the Toledo coach conceded defeat and the game was halted. This was the second consecutive year that Defiance had defeated Toledo at home.
The 12th game of the winning streak against Tri-State College was a makeup game for the first game of the season that had been snowed out twice. Strong winds produced a seveninning slug fest with Defiance College coming out on top, 19-13. Six home runs were hit in the game, two by Defiance and four by Tri-State batters.
The last four games of the season were with conference foes Ashland College and Bluffton College. Defiance needed to win one of the two Ashland games to clinch the Mid-Ohio League title. The first game at Ashland was on Friday, May 19, 1961. Ashland ran up a 9–0 lead in the first three innings and cruised to a 13–4 victory, halting the Defiance College winning streak at 14 games. Jim Sanderson, the first of three Defiance pitchers, took the loss. The next day Defiance College won their second Mid-Ohio League Championship in three years, defeating Ashland College by a 3–1 score.
With the Mid-Ohio League Championship decided, the Bluffton games took on a new importance. Defiance College had been notified that they were the Ohio candidate for the District 22 (Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Illinois) representative to the NAIA National Baseball Tournament. It was reported that Pikeville College (12–1) and Indiana Central College (14–5) were the Kentucky and Indiana candidates.[fn]“College Ends Baseball Card With Bluffton,” Defiance Crescent-News, May 25, 1961.[/fn]
The first Bluffton game on Friday, May 26, did nothing to advance their tournament aspirations, as the Yellowjackets managed only three hits in a 9–2 loss to the Beavers. Pitcher Ron Coxon went the distance in his seventh start and was charged with the loss, giving him five wins and one loss for the season. Coach Reising sent Pete Ladd to the mound for Saturday’s season finale. This was Ladd’s fourth start of the season in 11 appearances. The game was a featured part of Alumni Day on the Defiance College campus. After a late start due to the alumni luncheon, Ladd recorded his sixth win without a loss (to go with his four saves) as Defiance defeated Bluffton, 9–4. The game was stopped after seven innings at Bluffton’s request. Defiance College finished the regular season with a 16–2 record (See Table 2).
Table 2: 1961 Defiance College baseball schedule
|+||4/14||Wilmington, OH||Defiance||3||Wilmington College||0||9|
|+||4/15||Wilmington, OH||Defiance||8||Wilmington College||1||9|
|4/26||Hillsdale, MI||Defiance||9||Hillsdale College||5||9|
|+||4/29||Defiance, OH||Defiance||8||Findlay College||4||9|
|+||4/29||Defiance, OH||Defiance||9||Findlay College||3||7|
|5/2||Defiance, OH||Defiance||22||Toledo University||9||7|
|+||5/6||Cedarville, OH||Defiance||4||Cedarville College||2||7|
|+||5/6||Cedarville, OH||Defiance||4||Cedarville College||3||7|
|5/10||Hillsdale, MI†||Defiance||8||Hillsdale College||7||9|
|+||5/12||Defiance, OH||Defiance||6||Ohio Northern||5||9|
|+||5/13||Defiance, OH||Defiance||4||Ohio Northern||3||9|
|5/15||Defiance, OH||Defiance||19||Tri-State College||13||7|
|5/16||Defiance, OH||Defiance||4||Adrian College||1||7|
|5/16||Defiance, OH||Defiance||6||Adrian College||3||7|
|+||5/19||Ashland, OH||Ashland College||13||Defiance||4||9|
|+||5/20||Ashland, OH||Defiance||3||Ashland College||1||9|
|+||5/26||Defiance, OH||Bluffton College||9||Defiance||2||9|
|+||5/27||Defiance, OH||Defiance||9||Bluffton College||4||7|
|#||6/6||Sioux City, IA||Sam Houston State*||10||Defiance||0||8|
|#||6/7||Sioux City, IA||Defiance||10||Winona State||9||16|
|#||6/8||Sioux City, IA||Omaha University||9||Defiance||1||9|
+ Mid-Ohio League
# NAIA Tournament
† Defiance home team
* No-hit game by Sam Houston State pitcher Alton Arnold
Bids for the NAIA National Tournament were announced Sunday, May 28, the day after Defiance’s season ended. The NAIA Area VI Commissioner picked Defiance College as the first choice for District 22, with Illinois State Normal University and the Ferris Institute as second and third choices. Based on a comparison of season records and strength of opponents the Tournament Committee extended the bid to Defiance College. Defiance’s thrashing of Toledo may have influenced their selection.[fn]“DC Picked For National NAIA Tourney,” Defiance Crescent-News, May 29, 1961.[/fn]
The 1961 NAIA National Championship Baseball Tournament was held in Sioux City, Iowa, June 6–10. Defiance had the best record of the eight teams. The first round pairings were as follows: first-seed Sam Houston State Teachers College (18–9) vs. Defiance College (16–2); second-seed Grambling College (23–3) vs. Slippery Rock State College (15–3); third-seed East Carolina College (20–3) vs. Winona State College (15–5); fourth-seed Sacramento State College (20–12) vs. Omaha University (17–5). A 10-run mercy rule was in effect for the first two rounds of the tournament.[fn]Games were stopped if one team led by 10 or more runs after seven innings.[/fn]
At 11:45 AM Sunday, June 4, the Defiance College baseball team boarded the train in Defiance for the trip to Iowa.[fn]“DC Teams Prepare For National Play,” Defiance Crescent-News, June 2, 1961.[/fn] For most of the team a trip farther west than Chicago would be an exciting, and perhaps frightening, new experience. After a six-hour layover in Chicago the team arrived in Sioux City at 9:30 A.M. Monday. Their first game in the national tournament was scheduled for 2:00 P.M. Tuesday, June 6.
Coach Reising again sent his ace, Pete Ladd, to the mound for the first game against Sam Houston State Teachers College. Sam Houston State tagged Ladd with 12 hits, including three home runs, in the seven innings he pitched.[fn]“DC Tests Winona In Losers’ Bracket,” Defiance Crescent-News, June 7, 1961.[/fn]
Meanwhile, Sam Houston pitcher Alton Arnold held Defiance hitless, pitching the first no-hit game in NAIA National Tournament history. The game was stopped after the eighth inning by the mercy rule with Sam Houston State winning 10–0. Four of Sam Houston’s runs were unearned due to the six Defiance errors, one each by the starting infield and battery. In their first national tournament game, Defiance College became the first team ever to be no-hit in the NAIA National Tournament. Alton Arnold still holds the NAIA National Tournament record for fewest hits allowed (10 inning minimum). In his two games in the 1961 tournament he gave up three hits in the 13 innings he pitched. There have been two nine-inning no-hit games pitched in the NAIA National Tournament since 1961.[fn]“National Baseball Championship Records,” http://www.naiahonors.com/records/Baseball_UpdatedChampionshipRecords.pdf.[/fn]
On Wednesday, June 7, Defiance College played a loser’s bracket game against Winona State College. Defiance scored twice in the top of the ninth inning to take a 6–5 lead, only to see Winona State come back to tie the game. Both teams scored once in the 13th inning and twice in the 15th to take the game into the 16th inning tied at nine runs each.[fn]“Omaha U. Next Rival Of DC Nine,” Defiance Crescent-News, June 8, 1961.[/fn]
Ron Coxon had started the game for Defiance and was replaced in the sixth by Pete Ladd who pitched the next eight innings. Winona State’s starting pitcher went four innings before being replaced by Mike Sund who pitched through the 15th. Defiance’s fourth pitcher, Jim Sanderson, came into the game in the 15th inning with Defiance leading by one run, two outs, the bases loaded, and a 3-0 count on the Winona batter. Sanderson threw the fourth ball to tie the game and then struck out a pinch hitter batting for Sund, sending the game to the 16th inning.
Leading off in the top of the 16th, Defiance’s Jim Martin drew a walk and was sacrificed to second by Dave Browns. With two outs, Steve Booker singled to drive in Defiance’s tenth run. In the bottom of the 16th, Winona State had a runner on third base with one out after a single and Defiance’s seventh error. The runner tried to score on a ground ball to second baseman Al Phipps and was thrown out at the plate. The next batter walked, but was picked off first by Defiance catcher Booker to end the game. Sanderson pitched the 16th and got credit for the win.
The sixteen-inning marathon game took four hours and twelve minutes to play. Defiance College scored 10 runs on 10 hits while making seven errors. Winona State had nine runs on 15 hits and committed eight errors.
The 16-inning win, however, was costly. Ned Ewers, Defiance’s slugging first baseman, suffered a double fracture of his right leg in a collision at first base with Winona catcher Bob Rogenby. Ewers was taken to a Sioux City hospital where he underwent surgery. (Ewers was hospitalized in Sioux City for a week.) Catcher Steve Booker played the entire sixteen innings, but finished the game in pain. After the game it was determined that he had suffered a fracture to his arm. The injuries to Booker and Ewers put the heart of Defiance’s batting order out of action for the remainder of the tournament.[fn]Robert Reising, email correspondence, December 20, 2012.[/fn]
Defiance College’s costly, 16-inning victory remains one of the two longest games ever played in the NAIA National Tournament. Other records set in this game are most at bats by a player, most at bats by both teams, and most team at bats, fielding chances, and assists. (These records are all held by Winona State.) The NAIA record was tied in 1964 when Wartburg College needed 16 innings to defeat West Liberty State College, 2–1. Until 2008 this was the record for all collegiate National Finals baseball tournaments. On May 26, 2008, Sonoma State University defeated the University of Central Missouri 6–5 in 19 innings at the NCAA Division II National Tournament.[fn]“Division II Baseball Championship,” http://www.fs.ncaa.org/Docs/stats/baseball_champs_records/2012/d2/DII.pdf.[/fn], [fn]There have been three 15-inning games in the College World Series (NCAA Div. I), and four 13-inning games in the NCAA Div. III National Tournament.[/fn]
A makeshift line-up took the field for Defiance’s third game of the tournament.[fn]“Injury-Beset Defiance Ousted In NAIA Play, 9–1,” Defiance Crescent-News, June 9, 1961.[/fn]
With their regular first baseman hospitalized, center fielder Jim Martin played first base while left fielder Lowell Frederick covered center field for the first time. Right fielder Gary Shiverdecker, who had moved to center field when Martin went to first base during the previous game replacing the injured Ewers, now went behind the plate due to the injury to the catcher Booker. The left field and right field positions were filled by pitchers Kenny Heckman and Don Miller. Ron Coxon was the starting pitcher for the second straight day.
Omaha University, the opposition in the third-round game, scored two unearned runs in the first inning on their way to a 9–1 victory over the depleted Defiance College team. Omaha had six stolen bases and two home runs in the game, while Defiance committed four errors. The only bright spot for Defiance was the play of Lowell Frederick in center field. Frederick caught nine fly balls to set the NAIA National Tournament record for putouts by an outfielder. (This record was tied in 1992 by Pookie Wilson of Auburn University at Montgomery.)
Defiance College played three games in the 1961 NAIA National Championship Tournament. In their opening game, they were the first team to be held hitless in the National Tournament. The 16-inning marathon in the second game remains the record for the NAIA National Tournament, and, for 47 years was the longest game in any collegiate national tournament. Lowell Frederick’s record for putouts in the third game still stands as the NAIA National Tournament record.
The 1961 success did not carry over to the next season. With only eight lettermen returning, the 1962 Defiance College team had a record of seven wins and ten losses. During the next 30 years, Defiance College played in the NAIA postseason playoffs nine times, never advancing beyond the Regional Tournament. Defiance College left the NAIA to join the NCAA as a Division III school in 1991. They have not yet qualified for an NCAA playoff.
After the 1962 season Bob Reising left Defiance College to coach the baseball team at the University of South Carolina. He later coached at Fort Hayes State College and Furman University. Reising started his college coaching career with a fourteen-game winning streak and an appearance in the NAIA National Tournament. After leading Furman to the Southern Conference Championship and the NCAA Regional Tournament in 1969 he retired from coaching to become an English professor. He has written books on Jim Thorpe and Moonlight Graham. Bob Reising is still active in higher education at the University of Central Arkansas.
Coach Reising attributes the success of the 1961 Defiance College team to the talent and chemistry of the eighteen players, saying, “I believe that, in a sport that celebrates team play, the 1961 Defiance College team possessed it and, therefore, the team as a whole merits recognition.”[fn]Robert Reising, email correspondence, August 16, 2013.[/fn]
ROGER J. HAWKS is a retired engineering professor whose last position was with one of Defiance College’s “nearby traditional opponents.” Since his retirement, his research has concentrated on small college (Div. III and NAIA) baseball in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. This is his second contribution to the Baseball Research Journal.