Page Turner: 10th inning home run sends LSUS to World Series

THRILL OF VICTORY:  The LSUS Pilots celebrate their walk-off win Thursday at home sending them to the NAIA World Series. 

By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports

For almost 10 innings, LSUS senior Jaylin Turner didn’t do a whole lot in Thursday’s deciding game of the Shreveport Regional against Loyola (New Orleans). Basically, he just cheered for his teammates and maybe waved a towel or two.

And then he grabbed a bat and all that changed.

With one swing, Turner created one of the greatest moments in the Pilots’ athletic history.

Called on to pinch hit with two outs in the bottom of the 10th, the left-hander launched a ball well over the fence in right field to give LSUS a 9-7 win over the Wolf Pack at Pilot Field.

Greatest home run Turner has ever hit? “By far,” the 6-5 Georgia native said.

But it shouldn’t have come to anyone’s surprise. After all, Turner hit one in the seventh inning Wednesday in a game LSUS had to win in order to advance to Thursday’s regional-deciding contest.

“My teammates had been playing their behinds off all day,” Turner said. “If I hit it out, fine. If I don’t, I just needed to get on base. I was just trying to get something going.”

Instead of getting something going, he got something ending.

It was a nerve-racking game that was part of a nerve-racking week for LSUS, which came in as one of the top-ranked teams in the country but had to win four straight games after losing Monday’s opener (also to Loyola) to advance to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

Turner’s home run came with two strikes. He might not have even had the chance if JJ Flores had not been hit by a pitch with two outs.

“To be honest with you, he (Turner) gets better the deeper he gets in the count,” said LSUS coach Brad Neffendorf. “He’s got really big power. That’s kind of what he does. He hit it out and we walked it off.”

It was a sudden end of a tense game throughout, one that saw the score tied three times in the late innings and featured multiple pitchers working on one day’s rest, two momentum-turning home runs – that corresponded with two major-league bat flips – and multiple ejections of coaches and fans.

Having played four games in three days, Neffendorf didn’t really have much of a pitching plan, other than to start Kevin Miranda and take it from there. It was obvious almost from the start that Miranda didn’t have his usual stuff, but that was to be expected since he was pitching on only one day’s rest. The most telling sign? He had walked only nine batters all year and walked one in the first and two more in the second. However, he did set the school record for strikeouts in the first inning.

After Loyola scored two in the first on back-to-back RBI singles, the Wolf Pack came right back with two more, scoring on a fumbled suicide bunt and an RBI single to center.

That marked the end of the day for Miranda and brought on Bobby Vath, another starter on short rest. Vath did a great job holding Loyola in check while the Pilots slowly overcame leaving men on base.

Allbry Major hit two homers, including one in the seventh that gave LSUS a 7-5 lead. But Loyola’s Cameron Trosclair matched him with his own two-run homer to tie the score again in the eighth, eventually sending it into extra innings.

Pilots reliever Brad White (8-0) denied any future threats by retiring all six batters he faced in the ninth and 10th innings.

Then Turner stepped into the batter’s box.

“It’s tough, but you have to have grit and determination,” he said. “If you want your boys to win, you got to come in and do the job.”

It’s the second straight year for the Pilots to reach the World Series and their fifth overall appearance.

“I’ve never been to Idaho,” Turner said. “It’s going to be one heck of a ride.”

It already has been.

Photos by JOHN JAMES MARSHALL