Former Apollo makes key play in title game

At his baseball core, Kyle Chamberlain has always been about making the right play, deploying the winning tactic that leads to team success.

Victories. Conference Titles. National Championships. Chamberlain believes those come from doing the correct deed in crucial moments, taking the baseball knowledge that was instilled to him as a Sunset Apollo and applying it on the grandest of platforms.

With this winners' mentality, it comes as no surprise that the Linfield College catcher executed the most clutch maneuver in the championship game of the NCAA Division III Finals in Appleton, Wisconsin against South Maine on May 28.

Linfield loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth inning against the Huskies to bring Chamberlain to the plate with the score knotted up at 1-1 and one out on the board. by: COURTESY PHOTO: KELLY BIRD LINFIELD ATHLETICS  - Linfield senior catcher and former Sunset Apollo Kyle Chamberlain celebrates the Wildcats 4-1 National Championship win over South Maine.

The savvy senior noticed South Maine's third baseman playing far back on the infield dirt and stored that in his memory bank as he strode to the plate. Linfield head coach Scott Brosius didn't give Chamberlain the squeeze sign from the third base coaches' box. The former New York Yankee simply shrugged his shoulders at Chamberlain and nodded his head approvingly as if to say 'you know what to do'.

Playing possum with South Maine's pitcher, Chamberlain straightened up initially at the dish, indicating he was about to take a healthy cut at the offering. Yet, as the Husky hurler delivered the pitch the left-handed hitting Chamberlain squared around and laid down a perfectly-placed suicide squeeze bunt down the third baseline.

Once a former standout on the Apollo football and basketball teams, the athletic Chamberlain legged out the superbly situated surprisal and allowed Kramer Lindell to score from third base. Up 2-1, Chamberlain's cloak-and-dagger led to two more runs for Linfield to push the lead to COURTESY PHOTO: KELLY BIRD LINFIELD ATHLETICS  - Linfields Kyle Chamberlain was a rock for the Wildcats throughout his four-year career both at the plate and behind the dish.

The battery of Chamberlain behind the plate and pitcher Chris Haddeland took it from there, holding South Maine scoreless the rest of the way to help the Wildcats win the NCAA D3 Finals for the first time in the NCAA era. As shortstop Corey VanDomelen fielded the third and final out in the ninth, Chamberlain ripped the catcher's mitt off his face, sprinted out to the mound where he bear-hugged Haddeland as the Wildcats leaped on top of each other in jubilation.

“It was definitely worth it to be at the bottom of that pile. You don't really think about what's going to happen when you go out there so as soon as that ball went to Corey (VanDomelen) I started getting excited but held it in just long enough. As soon as that ball was thrown to first I started sprinting to the mound and after that I don't really know what happened.”

Linfield felt pretty good about themselves after winning the West Regional in Austin, Texas-considered the toughest region to navigate through in the D3 tournament. Going into Appleton, Chamberlain and the favored Wildcats liked their chances. When the tournament came down to the semifinals and there were four teams left, Linfield had already beaten three of those teams (South Maine, Ithaca, and UW Stevens-Point) earlier in the competition. The Wildcats rattled off three of four victories in Appleton before knocking off South Maine for the second time in four days.

“The whole tournament you get there and have the feeling that anything can happen because everyone's good. We had a lot of confidence going in and once we started beating the first couple teams our confidence just went up,” said Chamberlain.

Chamberlain's former Sunset coaches Danny Adams and Ryan Sullivan texted kept in constant contact with their two-time All-State second team selection during the Wildcats' staggering run to the championship.

“The experience of winning a championship is especially nice because he understands the balance of baseball and school. I'm really happy that he was rewarded for doing things the right way,” said Adams.

As a matter of fact, Chamberlain said Apollo assistant coach Steven Donohue-who played for George Fox's 2004 National Championship team- was particularly instrumental in helping ease the postseason tension. by: COURTESY PHOTO: KELLY BIRD LINFIELD ATHLETICS  - Chamberlains hard work handling the Linfield pitching staff behind the dish paid big dividends in the Wildcats championship chase.

As someone who'd been through the rigors of a tournament streak and was cognizant of what it takes to be a champion, Donohue acted as a sounding board for Chamberlain. Donohue provided words of encouragement, especially when they reached Appleton and the pressure skyrocketed with each passing game. The night before the title contest, a restless Chamberlain sent out a tweet about not being able to sleep because of pregame jitters. Almost instantaneously Donohue replied back on Twitter, reassuring Chamberlain that he wasn't alone in fighting off the butterflies.

“He said 'yeah I know the feeling ',” said Chamberlain. “He calmed me down a little bit to know I wasn't the only one who'd been through it. It helped me get focused in for the game.”

Through his entire Linfield career, in fact, the Sunset region has always backed Chamberlain who graduated from Sunset in 2009.

“It's good to know the community back home is still in touch with me. I've had a lot of high school friends and parents from Sunset congratulating means a lot to me that the Sunset community is still in touch with me. It's a pretty cool thing to see.”

For Chamberlain, a team-first player who could care less about individual statistics, the game-changing bunt and ensuing championship was the cherry on top of what he described as a “roller coaster career”.

Chamberlain didn't get a lot of looks from potential colleges coming out of Sunset but he knew, above all, that he wanted to play for a successful program. Suiting up for the Apollos and being surrounded by great high school hitters helped Chamberlain make the quick ascension from starting on the Linfield JV team to being a part-time starter as a college sophomore.

“At Sunset we had a pretty good offensive team my senior year so it wasn't that big of an adjustment for me because I was used to hitting behind really good hitters and behind good hitters,” said Chamberlain. “The coaches at Sunset: Danny Adams, Ryan Sullivan were all there during my time and they helped me.

“I didn't really care if I was playing every day, I just wanted to win and that's what it came down to,” remembered Chamberlain. “Linfield was the best opportunity to win for me so it was a pretty easy decision.”

Chamberlain played the first half of his Wildcat career on the JV team and started dressing for the varsity squad late in the year as they went to the D3 NCAA Finals. As a sophomore, Chamberlain started 20 games behind the plate was stuck behind a more seasoned catcher who just so happened to be the player of the year in the Northwest ConferenceLast season as a junior Chamberlain had a huge season of sorts, hitting. 301 with nine doubles and 24 RBIs in 37 starts but the Wildcats didn't make the playoffs.

This season Chamberlain's success flip-flopped. As a senior Chamberlain admittedly struggled swinging the sticks hitting.189 but Linfield won it all for the first time since 1971. Besides, in the biggest game of his life Chamberlain came up monumental with the bunt RBI and a walk. Chamberlain's handling of Haddeland and the Wildcats' team defense during the championship run were also pivotal.

“I'd take this year over any other year,” said Chamberlain. “Even if it didn't mean individual success, I still got the ring. The whole point of playing baseball is to win a championship and I'm one of the 25 guys who can say they ended their year being successful in completing that goal. It's something I'll never forget.”

Chamberlain will help coach Sunset's summer league baseball team this summer and eventually plans on getting a job in the sports world somewhere, preferably in baseball.

“I'm going to enjoy this for a while,” said Chamberlain. “It's unbelievable. As players we were kind of in shock. I don't think it's really sunk in yet for most of us but it's almost something you can't really believe. You work so hard for it and it finally happens, it makes everything worth it.”

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