“Cardiac Bruins” set to be first team inducted into BU Athletics Hall of Fame

“Cardiac Bruins” set to be first team inducted into BU Athletics Hall of Fame

BELLEVUE, Neb. -- On Saturday, Aug. 4 the 1995 Bellevue University baseball team will once again make history as the "Cardiac Bruins" will become the first team inducted into the Bellevue University Athletics Hall of Fame.

The induction ceremony will take place on the BU campus in the John B. Muller Administrative Services Building, Symposium Room beginning at 6 p.m.

Hall of Fame weekend is set to kick-off at 1 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 3 with the annual Hall of Fame Golf Outing at Eagle Hills Golf Course in Papillion.

Dubbed the "Cardiac Bruins" for good reason, the 1995 Bellevue University baseball team won half of its regular-season games by two runs or less. The team lived up to that nickname at the 1995 World Series, as well, losing the series opener before charging back to win five-straight games to claim the national championship – only the third time in World Series history a team had won the title after losing its opening game. 

Yes, rooting for the '95 Bruins kept your heart racing. Luckily for the fans, though, the Cardiac Bruins played with plenty of heart. They almost always found a way to win – and it usually was after the seventh-inning stretch. 

"I've never had a group like this," said Coach Mike Evans back in May of 1995 after his team captured the school's first – and to this day, only – national championship in any sport. "They just wouldn't quit." 

Playing in the World Series was something brand new for the 1995 Bellevue baseball team. The Bruins had advanced to regional play seven-straight years before finally qualifying for the school's first-ever World Series appearance in 1995.   

After starting the 1995 season slowly – the team was 13-6 in late March – the Bruins won 18 of their next 19 games and climbed to 6th in the NAIA national rankings. From there, the team continued to roll, winning the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference regular-season title and then the Midwest Regional, held in Topeka, Kan. 

But even that Regional crown did not come easy. The Bruins fell to St. Ambrose early in the tournament and was one loss to Rockhurst away from calling it a season. But the team, with its back against the wall, fought back to beat Rockhurst and then St. Ambrose, 6-5, to clinch a berth in the World Series. 

"We finally made it," Coach Evans said after the game.

The Bruins weren't content just making it to Sioux City, the site of the 1995 World Series. They were traveling north to win a national championship. 

The 1995 World Series got off to a shaky start for BU, as the team dropped a nail-biter in its opening game to Birmingham-Southern (Ala.), 2-1, a game that – of course – came down to the ninth inning.

But the Bruins bats came alive in their second game, after managing only one run on five hits in the opener. Coach Evans stuck with pitcher Germaine Hunter in the sixth inning, even after the senior from Kentucky gave up six runs. Hunter responded and shut down Wilmington College of Delaware during the final three innings, securing a 9-6 victory for the Bruins.

The next victim was St. Francis of Illinois. Senior shortstop Nic Deluca smashed two home runs, including a two-run shot in the 10th inning that gave the Bruins the walk-off victory. Before that, BU blew a five-run lead in the ninth inning to force extra innings.

Once again, this team showed it wasn't one for doing things the easy way.

After the stirring victory over St. Francis, the Bruins faced No. 1-ranked and perennial national power Lewis-Clark State of Idaho, the winner of six-straight national titles during the late '80s and early '90s.

The scrappy bunch from Bellevue University wasn't intimidated by top-ranked Lewis-Clark State. The Bruins were sparked by a three-run homer from Blake Brice that hit the foul pole and survived a three-run rally in the ninth to prevail, 8-7.

From there, the Bruins knocked off Birmingham-Southern, 7-5, in a semifinal contest – payback for the opening-round loss.

"We're a team of destiny," Coach Evans said after the semifinal win. "We're so close to this one."

The Bellevue University Bruins met their destiny on June 2, 1995, in the World Series championship game vs. Cumberland University. The Bruins won the game, 8-5, and in typically dramatic fashion. First baseman Chad Hopkins, playing with a stress fracture in his right foot and batting .125 going into the game, belted a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth, erasing a two-run deficit.

Hopkins was joined by a roster full of heroes. Shortstop DeLuca, the Series' Most Valuable Player, belted four home runs and drove in nine runs during six games at the Series. Third baseman Casey McMillan, outfielders Shawn Nasin and Jay Rubin, catcher Craig Strang and pitcher Germaine Hunter were all named to the all-World Series team. Don Kiviniemi held Cumberland to just two hits, both in the fifth inning, as he pitched the final innings in relief of Marce Wilson during the national championship game.

Overall, the "Cardiac Bruins" finished the 1995 "regular season" with a record of 44 wins, 11 losses, a "post-season" record of 13 wins, 2 losses, and – most importantly – one hard-earned National Championship.