About the only thing missing was the 1 o’clock-in-the-morning starting game time and the hand-written bracket that looked like a step-ladder.
Otherwise, the Shreveport Regional of the 2022 NAIA baseball tournament had all the appearances of a 1980s weekend softball tournament. Double elimination, but if you lose early in the event, the deck is stacked against you. The only favorable option is to just keep playing and playing and playing.
And playing, which is what happened Thursday at Pilot Field, where LSUS finally got its collective head to sea level after threatening to drown all week.
Once it got to a game where there were no more options for either team, the Pilots felt like they were on even terms.
And they were actually on more even terms than many realize. This would be the fifth game in four days for LSUS, having to work its way through the loser’s bracket to get to the final matchup with Loyola (New Orleans).
But this was also Loyola’s fifth game in four days, since the Wolf Pack did not have the opening round bye that the Pilots did on Monday.
Just put it this way – it’s a lot of baseball for both teams.
You would have thought that the winner of this game would be the team less worn out than the other one. Sure, the pitching staffs were a little used up, but what was most impressive is how both teams took gut punches and responded.
LSUS coach Brad Neffendorf wasn’t about to go down without at least giving the ball to his two best pitchers – Kevin Miranda and Bobby Vath – who had combined for almost half of the team’s 50 wins.
“We just needed somebody to start it,” Nefferdorf said of Miranda. “And Vath kind of has a bullpen mentality on the mound.”
Loyola got ahead 4-0 but before the game could get away from them, the Pilots posted two runs with two outs on a bloop single to right and a wild pitch.
Not exactly a highlight video, but 4-2 was a whole lot better than 4-0.
The first of two home runs by Allbry Major tied it in the fourth, but Loyola came back to take the lead before LSUS came back again to tie it in the bottom of the sixth.
That led to two-run homers by both teams to keep it tied.
That’s responding with it all on the line. Neither team was going to lay down.
Neffendorf wasn’t surprised in the least because he’d seen it before.
On April 20, LSUS was down 5-3 to Southwestern Assemblies of God University going into the bottom of the ninth when pinch hitter Zyon Avery hit a two-out, two-run home run to send it into extra innings. The Pilots went on to win in 10 innings.
Thursday, a two-run home run by a pinch hitter (Jaylin Turner) with two outs won the game. Sound familiar?
And how about this? Turner was pinch hitting for … Zyon Avery.
“If we hadn’t gone through a game like that (in April), I don’t know,” Neffendorf said. “We’ve gone through a little bit of everything in the last few weeks. We just kept battling.”
Asked what won it for the Pilots, Neffendorf didn’t hesitate.
“It’s all about the players,” he added. “They’ve been resilient the whole year. What credit don’t they deserve?”