It would be safe to say almost everything went Lee’s way Monday afternoon as the Flames advanced to the NAIA College World Series with an impressive 8-5 win over Missouri Baptist in the showdown game of the Opening Round of the National Tournament.
In earning their sixth straight trip to Lewiston, Idaho, the Flames (54-9-1) never trailed in the winner-take-all nine-inning game that lasted only 2 hours and 18 minutes. After watching it rain all day Sunday and thunderclouds hang over Olympic Field on Monday afternoon, the thunder rang out and the rain poured shortly after what coach Mark Brew called his team’s “sweetest” playoff win over the past six seasons.
“This group has worked so hard and done everything I have asked for the entire year,” said Brew. “I’m really proud to be taking this group of young men to Lewiston. The guys who have not made the trip before are in for a real threat. The entire community supports the World Series and we have earned our share of fans over the past five years. It is truly a special experience.”
Lee went right to work in the opening inning. With one out Blake Barber, who finished the day with two hits, singled and Roberto Reyes reached on a throwing error. Barber raced all the way to third and scored on a sacrifice fly by Corey Davis, who was the only other Flame with two hits in the nine-hit attack. After Mike Moore singled, Trevor Burgess drove home Reyes with a one-base knock. It was the seventh hit in five games for Burgess, who also finished the series with four RBIs and five runs scored.
Missouri Baptist tallied single runs in the second and third to tie the action, but Lee was not about to be denied and poured home five runs in the fourth to jump on top 7-2. Brew’s crew sent nine men to the plate. After a one out walk, Edmanuel Rivera followed with a double to left. Cameron Brewster picked up an RBI single and the Flames had something big going.
Jorge Saez was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Barber fanned to give the Spartans two outs. However, Roberto Reyes, who is tops in the NAIA with 82 RBIs, drilled a three-run double and put the Flames up 7-2. “That hit was huge,” pointed out Brew. “It came with two outs and came at a time when it looked like they were going to get out of a big jam. The lead grew to 8-2 in the sixth when Barber ripped a long home run over the left-center field wall.
However, Missouri Baptist fought back. Two runs in the bottom of the sixth on a double by Kyle Hardy made the board read 8-4 and the Spartans countered with one more run in the seventh when Kyle Turner doubled home Ryan Barban. Barban was the tournament’s top hitter with 10 hits in 17 appearances at the dish.
Lee used four hurlers in the win. Kris Hall started and hurled the first three innings. Freshman Kyle Briner came on for the next three and earned the win. He allowed four hits, two earned runs, fanned three and did not walk a batter. Joe Fabre gave the Flames two excellent innings and allowed a hit and a run. “Joe wanted revenge after Friday night’s encounter,” said Brew. “I was really pleased with the way he came back.”
Big Andy Hillis came in to seal the deal in the ninth and picked up his seventh save of the year. “Andy was throwing BBs,” said Brew with a smile. “I think he was a little hungry to pitch.” Hillis fanned two of the three hitters he faced.
For Missouri Baptist, Buck Coronado (10-2) was the starter and loser. Ben Dorman did a solid job of keeping the Flames in check for 3 2/3 innings and Aaron Matula worked the final 1 2/3 frames.
Lee will be joined in Lewiston by Tennessee Wesleyan, Rogers State (Okla.), LSU-Shreveport, Embry-Riddle (Fla.), Point Park (Pa.), Oklahoma City, College of Idaho, South Carolina-Beaufort, and host Lewis-Clark State.
The Flames will open play Saturday against the winner of Point Park (Pa.) and College of Idaho. The contest is slated for a 6 p.m. start EDT. Lee is the No. 2 seed in the 10-team field and LSU-Shreveport is the No. 1 seed.