St. Thomas (Fla.) And Tennessee Wesleyan Square Off For NAIA Crown
On Friday, May 31, the final game of this year’s NAIA World Series will be played and the 2019 champion will be crowned. The two teams fighting for the title are No. 6 St. Thomas (Fla.) and No. 1 Tennessee Wesleyan. The game is slated for a 7 p.m. PST start time at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho.
Here are the paths these two teams have taken to make it this deep in the tournament.
St. Thomas (Fla.)
St. Thomas started the tournament off with a 3-2 victory over the reigning national champions, Southeastern University (Fla.), the program’s first ever win on opening night of the World Series. Orlando Rodriguez pitched one of his best games ever for the Bobcats, making it through all nine innings with a season-high 13 strikeouts.
Southeastern had a 2-0 lead at the end of the seventh inning, but St. Thomas was able to complete the comeback, notching two runs in the top of the eighth and the winning run in the top of the ninth. Jackie Urbaez crushed a two-run homer to score the first pair of runs and a single to right field allowed Chris Allende to make it home for the winning score.
With that win, the Bobcats advanced to Game 12 of the tournament where they faced off against Science and Arts (Okla.). In another tight game, St. Thomas was able to scrape by with a 6-5 win, backed by even more fantastic pitching. Ian Exposito broke the St. Thomas single-season strikeout record, notching 126th strikeout of the year in the seventh inning. Exposito pitched seven innings with 11 strikeouts, two walks and three runs.
St. Thomas was able to jump out to an early 6-2 lead by the end of the fourth inning thanks to some big plays like a double by Daniel Mondejar in the bottom of the second that drove in a run and a two-run homer by Chris Garabedian in the bottom of the fourth.
The following game was an early preview of the final matchup of the tournament as St. Thomas took on Tennessee Wesleyan in Game 15 of the tournament. The trend of close contests continued as the Bobcats dropped their first game of the tournament, 3-2.
Garabedian picked up his second home run of the tournament with a solo shot over the center field wall in the top of the second inning. In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Bobcats responded with a pair of singles and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases. Braden Mosley hit a single to drive in two runs and give Tennessee Wesleyan the lead.
Gus Guerra scored for St. Thomas on a passed ball in the top of the seventh, but Alex Flock was able to advance to second and then score off of a walk, a bunt and eventually another single from Mosley.
With that loss, St. Thomas was slated to play Georgia Gwinnett in Game 16 of the tournament. The Bobcats came away with a 4-1 victory thanks to another impressive outing by Rodriguez. Rodriguez pitched six innings, striking out eight and allowing only one run. Jason Grana pitched the remaining three innings, conceding only one hit and notching his ninth save of the year.
St. Thomas scored all four of its runs in the bottom of the third inning. Mondejar singled down the right field line and Allende was walked in the next at-bat. Daniel Lowry pinch ran for Mondejar and both he and Allende were able to advance to scoring position off of a wild pitch. A fly out by Urbaez allowed Lowry to score and a single from Erick Delgado sent Allende home. Alejandro Rivero sent a two-run homer over the left-field wall to cap off the scoring for St. Thomas.
That win propelled St. Thomas into Game 18 of the tournament, a rematch against Science and Arts. Much like their first matchup, and the majority of the tournament for that matter, the Bobcats were backed by some solid pitching, as Christopher Coipel tossed eight innings with three hits and two runs. However, unlike the first game, this was not a very close contest at all for the Bobcats. Fueled by a seven-run third inning, St. Thomas was able to advance to the National Championship game after a 10-2 victory.
Some of the highlights from a dominant offensive performance by the Bobcats include a grand slam by Sergio Lopez and a home run to left field by Mondejar. St. Thomas is looking to redeem its recent loss to Tennessee Wesleyan and secure its first national championship in program history after failing to do so in the 2015 final.
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The Bulldogs haven’t had to endure quite as long of a path as St. Thomas. Tennessee Wesleyan has only had to play four games heading into the National Championship, while St. Thomas completed five games.
That being said, Bulldogs proved early on why they deserved the No. 1 seed in the tournament and the shorter path to the World Series that came with it, outscoring their opponents in the first two games 26-12.
Tennessee Wesleyan’s first matchup of the tournament was against Indiana Tech in Game 7. The Bulldogs didn’t manage to score in the first inning, but put runs on the board in every subsequent inning, including five runs in the bottom of the second. Six Bulldogs hit .500 or better in their first game of the tournament.
The offensive explosion in the bottom of the second inning that started an avalanche of runs was led by an impressive streak of four at-bats. Jhosmel Rodriguez doubled, sending Adrian Marquez home, followed by another double, this time by Tyler Reichenborn that allowed Rodriguez to score. Junior Dan Fry hit a triple to left-center field that brought in Reichenborn and Bryce Giles launched a two-run home run to center field. The Bulldogs went on to win, 11-3.
With the win over Indiana Tech, Tennessee Wesleyan advanced to Game 11 of the tournament where it faced off against Georgia Gwinnett. Georgia Gwinnett was able to open up the scoring with three runs in the bottom of the second, but that didn’t deter the Bulldogs as they posted 13 runs in the span of four innings in route to a 15-6 victory.
Some of the highlights from an outstanding afternoon at the plate included a pair of two-run homers by Shamoy Christopher, a grand slam by Anthony Williams in the top of the fifth and a triple down the right field line by Rodriguez.
Tennessee Wesleyan’s next game was the aforementioned 3-2 win over St. Thomas, followed by an 8-6 loss to Science and Arts, the Bulldogs first loss of this year’s tournament. Against Science and Arts, a late eighth inning comeback by the Bulldogs fell short of keeping Tennessee Wesleyan undefeated on the journey for a national championship.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Bulldogs had just scored three runs to tie the game for the first time since it was 0-0 in the second inning. A single to right field and a walk put runners on first and second for Tennessee Wesleyan. A double by Giles and two hits from Mosley and Williams put the score at 5-5. Science and Arts responded in the bottom of the seventh with three runs of its own.
In the top of the eighth inning, Tennessee Wesleyan got off to a hopeful start thanks to Christopher hitting a double to center field. Malik Stephens came on to pinch run for Christopher and scored when Flock hit a single to right field. However, three outs in the next five at-bats brought the comeback to an end as Science and Arts emerged victorious.
Now, the Bulldogs are seeking their second national championship in program history to go along with their 2012 World Series win over Rogers State.