The Bears’ first Regional Championship ‘wasn’t anything to celebrate’ – News-Leader

Posted: June 13, 2020 at 11:46 am

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When Bob Zimmermann was trying to decide where he should pitch in college, he wanted to go to the school that gave him the best opportunity to go to the College World Series.

He looked at the names on the Bears' roster. He knew Bears first baseman Ryan Howard from high school and had a few conversations with him before making his choice.

"It just seemed like a good fit," Zimmermann said.

Zimmermann went on to be named the Missouri Valley Conference's Freshman of the Year in 2000 and was a first-team All-Conference selection. After his freshman year, he was elected to be a member of the USA National Team in 2001 and 2002.

For the Bears, he could start or come out of the bullpen. The team looked to him as a player whowas able to step up for his team when it needed him the most.

"The personal success is always nice, but there's nothing that can compare to when you're having team success," Zimmermann said. "It just makes things better and makes things more fun and enjoyable to be around everything. I think baseball is a sport where personal success can contribute to team success, so it was nice to have both ends.

"The teams I had my freshman and my sophomore year both teams I think we had a team that could've made a run. I feel like we got snubbed out, but we were able to use the experience to help our team my junior in 2003 that helped make that run in the postseason because of the experience."

For the second year in a row, the Bears were sent to the Lincoln Regional. This time, they would be the No. 3 seed and would open against Coastal Carolina.

The year before, the Bears lost in the opener to Marist before eliminating Milwaukee and Marist the following day. Their season came to an end when they played Nebraska and lost 14-3 instead of forcing a winner-take-all regional championship game.

What happened in the 2002 regional wasn't forgotten. It served as extra motivation for a team that didn't expect to be in the NCAA Tournament in the first place.

"I think going back was a good thing," Bears head coach Keith Guttin said. "Guys were familiar with the stadium and everything. It was an easy trip by bus. I think there was a little comfort there."

"I thought it was the perfect place to go," centerfielder Dant'e Brinkley said. "We needed that revenge. We had all the confidence in the world and we were ready to go. We knew that team because we had played them the year before and we didn't lose too many guys."

Brooks Colvin didn't want things to be the same as the Bears' trip to Lincoln in 2002. The situation was starting to feel too familiar when he was on deck, so he had an idea.

Colvin decided to flip over a circle that served as the batter's box. It had the Nebraska logo on it even though the Bears were playing Coastal Carolina.

"I didn't think it was that big of a deal at first," Colvin said.

That's when the grounds crew decided to get on the field and flip it back over to show the logo. Again, Colvin flipped it over.

"It didn't feel right to sit there and hit off of Nebraska's logo," Colvin said. "I just felt like they had a good team and good program so we had to do something to spice it up a little bit and get everyone hopping and going. It definitely did it."

Colvin became public enemy No. 1. Every time he batted all tournament long, fans booed. Every time a ball was hit his way, fans booed.

"It was awesome," Colvin said. "I just remember loving hearing them. It definitely got blown out of proportion but once it got there, I thought it was awesome."

"Aww, man, he was always doing everything," Brinkley said. "That's who we were. We weren't going to be a second-class citizen to no team. Him flipping over that batting circle was kind of our statement like 'we're here and we're ready to go.'"

Pitcher Chad Mulholland got the nod to start against Coastal Carolina. Back then, the team's top arm, Brad Ziegler, would typically throw the second game of a weekend series. Because of a Saturday doubleheader that featured a seven-inning game before a nine, starting the No. 1 pitcher in the seven-inning game would help ease the stress on bullpens.

But Mullholland was noslouch either. He finished the year 10-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 119.2 innings pitched as the team's Friday starter.

"Chad Mullholland was pretty damn good," SMS pitching coach Paul Evans said. "He was a workhorse."

Against Coastal Carolina, Mullholland got behind early. Heallowed two home runs. His five innings made for his shortest outing since the second game of the regular season.

Southwest Missouri State trailed 3-2 after four innings but the Bears kept their composure.

Three walks, including one with the bases loaded, aided the rally. Brinkley and catcher Tony Piazza had RBI singles and Clay Wheeler hit a sacrifice fly to knock Coastal Carolina's starter out of the game.

"There was talk going into that Coastal Carolina game that they had two lefties who were going to shut us down and we took it personally," Brinkley said. "It was like 'Hey, you guys aren't going to take our dream away from us' and our dream was to win that regional. We never looked past where we were. Weren't looking to the College World Series or the Super Regional. We wanted to win the Regional."

The Bears' dream of winning the regional got off to a good start after the team pulled away for an 8-3 win over Coastal Carolina in the regional opener. Brinkley helped SMS in the rally by hitting a pair of home runs.

Not only did the win advance the Bears closer to their first regional championship in program history but it also set up a chance at revenge againstNebraska whichwas then the No. 9 team in the country.

Southwest Missouri State was going to have its ace, Brad Ziegler, on the mound but Nebraska was going to bring its big gun too.

The Cornhuskers were going with Aaron Marsden. He was just named the Big 12's Pitcher of the Year after allowing three runs or fewer in 19 of his 20 appearances.

"I remember having to have that mindset that I wasn't facing him and that I was facing the hitters," Ziegler said. "Our hitters are going to have to face him, but I don't. I'm facing their hitters and it's my job to get guys out and not worry about what he's doing on the mound."

That mindset worked.

Brinkley and Colvin hit back-to-back doubles in the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. Wheeler followed with a two-out single to give SMS a 3-1 lead.

The Huskers came back with a run in the top of the sixth, aided by a balk call on Ziegler that moved a runner over to second. Nebraska later scored on a two-out single to bring the game within one.

Ziegler worked six innings and allowed a lead-off double to start the seventh before handing the ball over to closer Shaun Marcum.

Things didn't start off well for Marcum as he tossed a wild pitch to advance the runner to third before he walked his first batter with no outs.

Marcum forced the next two batters into flyouts while both runners stayed put. Perhaps the biggest play of the game followed when Piazza caught the runner at first napping and picked him off to end the inning.

SMS was able to hold on to give Ziegler the school record for single-season victories.

"We just walked out of there having beaten the home team on their field, and because of the mindset of thinking that we're not going to get in the tournament and then when we got in, we felt like we had nothing to lose," Ziegler said. "We weren't supposed to be there in our minds. Everything we got after that was a bonus. We were able to play free and not care if we got beat. Everyone expected us to get beat so it wouldn't have been that big of a deal."

Later in the day, Nebraska bounced back with an 18-2 win over Eastern Michigan to stay alive and force a rematch with the Bears. The Huskers would have to win two-straight to win the regional, while the Bears just had to win one.

Nebraska scored six runs in the second inning after the Bears failed to record an out on two sacrifice bunt plays. Both times the Bears unsuccessfully attempted to get the lead runner.

SMS was able to cut the lead in half after a Wheeler RBI single and a two-run single by Marcum but it was still too much to overcome.

In the bullpen, Zimmermann found himself warming up until things started to spiral out of control. The Bears knew he was going to be needed for a winner-take-all game, so they sat him down.

"Sometimes in those situations when it's do-or-die, you have to punt and not use your guys as much as you don't want to lose," Evans said. "Sometimes you have to say 'we have another game to win, let's save our bullets' and Bob was certainly a bullet for Nebraska that day."

Southwest Missouri State lost the game 9-5 to force a winner-take-all contest. Either the Bears would leave Lincoln with their first regional title ever or they would go home.

"We just got beat," Guttin said. "Nebraska's at home and they're good. It was really, really hot and they had a place for us between games. We had some food and some cool drinks. We chilled for a little bit and chatted just a little. There was no 'rah, rah' speech. We just said that "this is who we are.'"

Zimmermann was going to get the start for the championship game and he usually starts warming up about 45 minutes before the game but this one was different.

He and Piazza found a spot in the clubhouse where they were able to take a quick 10-minute nap. The next thing Zimmermann remembers was a teammate walking in and saying that the game started in 15 minutes.

Show caption Hide caption Southwest Missouri State pitcher Bob Zimmermann, right, and teammate Dante Brinkley hug after defeating Nebraska 7-0 in an NCAA regional game in Lincoln, Neb., on... Southwest Missouri State pitcher Bob Zimmermann, right, and teammate Dante Brinkley hug after defeating Nebraska 7-0 in an NCAA regional game in Lincoln, Neb., on Sunday, June 1, 2003. With the win Southwest Missouri State advanced to the Super Regionals.Nati Harnik

"We were both like 'aw, crap' and had to get our uniforms on," Zimmermann said. "Starting there and having that rush to not think about the things going on may have made it a little easier to react and be athletic as opposed to overthinking things. Pitchers can get into big trouble when they're overthinking."

Zimmermann admitted that he had nerves, but he knew what he was capable of. He felt he could shut them down.

And he did.

"My fastball command was really good that day," Zimmermann said. "It makes things a lot easier when your fastball is working for you. I feel like it was strike-one to every single hitter. I never started out with a ball and I got ahead and had that feeling that I could throw anywhere."

"He was really on that day," Evans said. "He was a guy who feeds off emotion. He was kind of our wildcard a guy you can use in so many different ways. He and Tony were really clicking. I just remember we were going away, away, away, away and Bob had a good arm with a good fastball. His breaking ball was OK and he was just feeding it, man. He was just going right at him and attacking and they didn't have much success."

Zimmermann threw the game of his life and ultimately put together one of the great performances in program history when he threw a five-hit shutout to help the Bears defeat Nebraska 7-0 and give SMS its first-ever NCAA Division I Regional Championship.

"I would say it's at or near the top certainly with what was on the line," Guttin said of where Zimmermann's performance ranks in Bears baseball history. "He was just phenomenal. Unbelievable amount of first-pitch strikes and putting guys away. It was a great win."

"I was confident but you could've given me a million-to-one odds and I wouldn't have bet a single dollar that he was going to pitch a complete-game shutout," Ziegler said. "That was a big ol' burly man who decided he was going to put the team on his back."

When the final out was recorded and the Regional was won, there was no celebration.

There was no dogpile or Gatorade being dumped on Guttins' head. Nothing.

For a team that didn't think it was going to make the NCAA Tournament in the first place, avenging its loss from the year before and winning the first Regional in program history was somehow expected.

"It wasn't anything to celebrate," Brinkley said. "We expected to win. For me, I'm a different kind of example and I'm never satisfied. I never have to outright celebrate something that I should be doing and that was something that we should've been doing. We knew our fight wasn't over and that's just what it was and then it was on to the next."

Show caption Hide caption Southwest Missouri State's Adam Pummill, center, celebrates after scoring against Nebraska in the fourth inning of an NCAA regional game in Lincoln, Neb., Sunday, June... Southwest Missouri State's Adam Pummill, center, celebrates after scoring against Nebraska in the fourth inning of an NCAA regional game in Lincoln, Neb., Sunday, June 1, 2003. Southwest Missouri State defeated Nebraska 7-0 and advanced to the super-regional round of the NCAA baseball tournament for the first time.Nati Harnik, AP

"Our thing was 'let's act like we're supposed to be the winners,'" Zimmermann laughed. "We're supposed to be here and not showing our ass basically hooting and hollering. We have more business. We wanted a really professional win and then take the work on to the Super Regional that we weren't finished and not just content with winning a Regional."

"That was their thing," Guttin said. "They came up to take care of business. They did their celebrating off the field, I can tell you that. It's a lot easier to say that 17 years later."

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email atwwheeler@news-leader.comor join the conversation on Twitter where his handle is@WyattWheeler_NL. You can also sign up for his free "Bears Beat" newsletter by subscribing on

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The Bears' first Regional Championship 'wasn't anything to celebrate' - News-Leader

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June 13th, 2020 at 11:46 am

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