Birmingham-Southern baseball team’s ‘Cinderella’ DIII World Series run ends in heartbreak days after college closes for good

Just days after the school closed its doors for good, Birmingham-Southern College’s baseball team closed the door on their heart-tugging, made-for-the-movies postseason run, losing on a ninth-inning home run at the Division III College World Series.

Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Sam Paden played the villain, hitting a game-winning solo homer in Eastlake, Ohio, on Sunday to help the Warhawks win 11-10 and advance to the next round.

The Panthers’ loss marked the team’s elimination from the tournament and the final chapter of the closed program.

The team’s head coach, Jan Weisberg, addressed the players on the field and the team was later given an ovation by fans as they walked off.

Birmingham-Southern was a private liberal arts school, located in Birmingham, Alabama, that opened its doors in 1856. In March, the school announced it would close, and the baseball team went on a miraculous run to clinch a spot in the DIII College World Series with the help of a GoFundMe campaign.

Despite the school shuttering its doors on Friday due to financial difficulties, the Panthers defeated Randolph-Macon 9-7 on Saturday with a walk-off home run in Eastlake, Ohio, to stay alive in the NCAA’s annual college baseball tournament.

They completed their win in dramatic fashion when, with the score tied 7-7 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, first baseman Jackson Webster hit a two-run walk-off home run to continue on the school’s “Cinderella story.”

It sparked delirious scenes in the crowd and at watch parties back in Birmingham while Webster was mobbed by his teammates who were all waiting for him at home plate.

“Baseball miracle, right?” Webster said, per the NCAA. “The storybook isn’t finished. It’s a hard pill to swallow. We don’t have anything to go back to so we take the field like we don’t have anything to lose. And a team that has nothing to lose is a team that’s hard to beat.”

The Panthers had jumped to an early 4-0 lead by the bottom of the third but faltered in the middle innings after a series of mistakes and trailed 7-4 by the eighth. After losing their opening game on Friday, they had to win this one to remain in the tournament and even their head coach had doubts creep into his mind.

“You just had the feeling of this is how it’s going to end,” Weisberg said afterwards, according to the NCAA. “What this team has been through in particular … with all that we’ve had hanging on our heads, there had to be some thoughts.

“I’ll admit it happened to me for a brief second in between innings. I started thinking about what am I going to say, am I going to keep it together? And I just told myself stop, just stop.”

Birmingham-Southern third baseman Mitch Austin fields a ball during practice earlier this week. - Sue Ogrocki/AP
Birmingham-Southern third baseman Mitch Austin fields a ball during practice earlier this week. - Sue Ogrocki/AP

Then, all three of their pinch hitters delivered at the plate in the ninth inning, giving Webster an opportunity to seal the victory, though on his first swing he mistimed his effort so badly that he tapped his chest to apologize. He connected on the third pitch, however, and sent it over the left field wall for a famous win.

Along with the GoFundMe page, Topps announced earlier this week it was producing trading cards featuring Birmingham-Southern’s baseball team with some of the proceeds going to the program. Topps also said it was giving some cards to “distribute to players, friends & family.”

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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