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Fans flock from corners of nation to NCAA Division III baseball championship

May 24, 2013
 
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Linfield College fans celebrate after their team scores a run against Ithaca College on Friday. / Dan Powers/Post-Crescent Media

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GRAND CHUTE — A sun-drenched, crisp morning greeted fans from each corner of the nation Friday at Fox Cities Stadium for the NCAA Division III baseball championship.

Clyde Glenn, flew north from Jackson, Miss., to watch his freshman son, Isaac, play center field for Millsaps College. He was too nervous to sit down in the stands, but called the venue “the perfect atmosphere for championship baseball.”

“We hope to see them methodically make sure we’re victorious, seal the deal and go home with the championship,” Glenn said.

The double-elimination tournament is in its 14th year at the venue. Eight teams in the championship are each guaranteed games Friday and Saturday. The championship game is scheduled for Tuesday.

Directly across the stadium, Rosemary Pisani, of Connecticut, watched her son Anthony, a senior, play for the University of Southern Maine.

“It’s incredible. It’s a kid’s dream to come here once in their life,” Pisani said. “It’s nerve-wracking because you want to see the kids have a good experience and have fun.”

The Huskies of Southern Maine ultimately downed the Millsaps Majors, 2-1, in 10 innings to kick off the championship weekend.

Matt Ten Haken, sports sales manager with the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the annual event pumps $400,000 in visitors spending into the area.

Last year, the total attendance was 22,600 for the five-day series.

“This is the longest DIII championship in the nation, so our local restaurants and shops love it,” Ten Haken said. “It’s a pretty relaxed schedule with each team playing a game, then having lots of down time to enjoy the Fox Cities.”

Also in town this weekend is the Wisconsin Youth Soccer state championship. That event drew 130 youth teams to play at the Scheels USA Youth Soccer Complex.

“We’re one of the few towns that keep the hotels full on a Memorial Day weekend, so we’re very fortunate to have two large events,” Ten Haken said.

J.P. Williams, NCAA’s assistant director of championships, oversaw the games from the stadium’s new box seats Friday.

He said the organization was happy to be back in the Fox Cities. All teams arrived on time Wednesday — those from outside 500 miles flew to Wisconsin.

“The infrastructure is set up for us and the folks from Appleton and all of our hosts do a good job,” Williams said. “This is the highest level to compete as a student athlete, so being among the best teams in the nation is very special.”

While not everyone at Friday’s games had a rooting interest, the local crowd is obligated to cheer for Stevens Point, the only team from Wisconsin in the tournament.

Carl Meilinger, of Waupaca, said he attends every year.

“I’ll have to root for Stevens Point of course, but we just want to see a good ballgame,” Meilinger said. “There’s lots of talent on the field this weekend and it’s fun to see a few that might end up in the majors someday.”

— Nick Penzenstadler: 920-996-7226, or npenzenstadler@postcrescent.com; on Twitter @npenzenstadler

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