LSUS, the No. 2 ranked baseball team in the NAIA, was one out from advancing to its third consecutive World Series when visiting MidAmerica Nazarene University scored two runs to overcome the Pilots 7-6 Thursday afternoon in the Shreveport Bracket of the National Tournament.
The Pilots finished the season 47-10, the fifth 40-win season in the last six, with the 2020 season being cut short because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
LSUS was trying to repeat the feat it pulled off last year. The 2022 Pilots also lost their opening game in the Shreveport Bracket, but fought back through the elimination bracket and recorded a walk-off win to punch their ticket to the World Series in Idaho.
It appeared LSUS was poised to follow the same script in Thursday’s championship game.
The contest was close throughout with LSUS leading for most of it. The Pilots took a 6-5 edge into the ninth inning, about to overcome a 6-4 opening-day loss Monday night to MidAmerica Nazarene. LSUS squared things Wednesday afternoon in a 14-6 victory over the Pioneers, setting up Thursday’s winner-take-all rematch.
MNU (34-26) got back-to-back doubles from Brysen Hamilton and Drew Woodley to start the ninth, putting runners on second and third. LSUS pitcher AJ Fritz (1-3) got a ground out and a strike out. He needed just one more out when leadoff hitter Sean Maple singled to right field to tie the game 6-6. Fritz intentionally walked Brycen Sherwood to load the bases and Javier Melendez followed with a walk to push across the go-ahead run.
After escaping any more damage in the top of the ninth, LSUS was not done. Trevor Burkhart and Josh Gibson got one-out singles to place runners on first and second. The Pilots’ leading hitter on the season, Ryan Major, lined out to right field and Miguel Vega, who had homered earlier, grounded out to short, ending the game.
Vega had a run-scoring single, double and the home run in five at bats to drive in three runs while Major was 2-for-5 and scored twice.
LSUS used a three-run fifth inning to take a 5-2 lead as Major and Vega had run-scoring singles and the third run came in on a balk.
The Pioneers scored two in the sixth and one in the seventh to tie the game 5-5.
LSUS went ahead in the eighth as Vega doubled in Major, who led off the inning with a single. Vantrel Reed walked to put runners on first and second with no outs but the next three batters were retired on ground balls.
The Pilots used seven pitchers with starter Chase Guitreau the most effective, allowing one run on five hits in four innings.
Reece Helland (5-0) got the win for NMU by working the final two innings. He walked one and gave up three hits and no runs.
The Pioneers had 12 hits on the day with Maple (2-for-4), Sherwood (2-for-5), Melendez (2-for-5) and Woodley (2-for-3) all with multiple hits and all had a double. They will make their second straight World Series appearance next week.