LEWISTON, Idaho — The Lewis-Clark State College baseball team erupted for seven runs in the top of the sixth inning, its largest offensive output for a single frame this season, to defeat Oklahoma Wesleyan 9-5 on Thursday night at the 2014 Avista-NAIA Baseball World Series at Harris Field.
The win sends the Warriors (47-8) into a winner-take-all championship game with Cumberland (Tenn.) on Friday night at 6:35 p.m., and will mark the 23rd time and second consecutive season that LCSC has appeared in the tournament’s final game.
The championship contest will be carried live on WatchESPN at www.espn3.com.
The Warriors and Bulldogs have played three times during the tournament, with each team winning once. Cumberland defeated LCSC 6-1 on Saturday, and the Warriors beat the Bulldogs 6-5 in walk-off fashion on Wednesday.
“It’s a phenomenal championship game, and I think the right two teams are in it,” Lewis-Clark State coach Jeremiah Robbins said.
Michael Noteware went the distance in what almost surely will be his final appearance in a Warrior uniform, allowing eight hits with two strikeouts and three walks against Oklahoma Wesleyan. He allowed five runs, but only two were earned as the Warriors made a pair of infield errors that fueled a four-run third inning for the Eagles.
“Our guys got punched in the face early but got back up,” Robbins said. “We responded with a seven-spot and got the energy back in our dugout. It was a pleasure to watch.”
Oklahoma Wesleyan led 4-1 after five innings, but the Warriors exploded in the sixth. Ryan Sells, who hit LCSC’s first home run of the World Series in the first inning, led off the sixth with a single up the middle, and Cody Lavalli followed that up with a single of his own.
A groundout to the right side by Ty Jackson moved the runners up to second and third, and Michael Sexton drove in the first run of the inning on an RBI groundout to first base.
Raymond Pedrina got his first start of the World Series on Thursday and doubled to right-center on an 0-2 pitch to drive in Lavalli with to make it a 4-3 game. Chris Woolley drew a four-pitch walk Kevin Hawk was hit by a pitch to load the bases for leadoff man Jake Shirley, as the Eagles replaced starter Sam Haynes with Rhett Acker.
Shirley has had a tough World Series to this point, but had a big hit on Wednesday night and showed signs of coming alive at the plate.
He greeted Acker with a bases-clearing double to center field, giving the Warriors a 6-4 lead.
“I just went up there not trying to do too much,” Shirley said. “I would have been satisfied with an RBI single, but I got enough of the bat on the ball to get it deep enough to get all three in.”
Robbins wasn’t surprised that Shirley came through when it counted.
“He’s a clutch player, and has been that way all year,” Robbins said. “He knows when to rise to the moment.”
The Warriors weren’t done. Pinch-hitter Jacob Cano was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a wild pitch while Shirley advanced to third. Sells drove them both in with a single to left field for his second and third RBI of the game, as LCSC increased its lead to 8-4.
In the Series, Sells is hitting .500 (8-for-16) with six RBI.
It was the second consecutive game that the Warriors fell behind early only to roar back. LCSC trailed 5-1 against Cumberland on Wednesday night.
“We always believe in ourselves, and we just knew we were going to win,” Sells said. “We never had any doubt.”
Oklahoma Wesleyan got a run back in the sixth inning to make it 8-5, but the Warriors answered with a two-out run in their half of the seventh.
Pedrina was hit by a pitch, and when Woolley singled to center field, a throw home got away from the Oklahoma Wesleyan catcher, allowing Pedrina to scamper home.
Noteware (7-2) took care of the rest, allowing two baserunners over the final three innings to send the Warriors to Friday’s championship game.
“He was phenomenal,” Robbins said of his senior right-hander. “He really wanted this one and he knew what this one meant to us. He knew it would be his last time to pitch on this mound. He wanted to go out the right way and he certainly did that.”
With the momentum of four consecutive World Series wins on its side, Lewis-Clark State is feeling good about its chances to capture the program’s 17th national championship on Friday night.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum, everyone’s swinging a hot bat and we’ve got the crowd behind us,” Shirley said.
“It’s going to be the toughest team, and the one that holds its mentality solid for nine innings,” Robbins said. “It’ll be the team that can pitch it, defend it and get the clutch hit.”
— L-C State Sports Information