Appleton, Wis. - The Cal Lutheran baseball team is headed to the National Championship series starting tomorrow after grinding out a 10-8 victory over North Central (Ill.) on Sunday night at the 2017 NCAA Division III Baseball Championships at Fox Cities stadium.
With the win, the No. 3 seed Kingsmen claimed the Pool B championship after going 3-0 against the competition and will square off against the Pool A champion, and No. 5 seed Washington & Jefferson (41-11) in a best-of-three series with the National Championship on the line.
But first, CLU would have to get past a North Central team in a game that went well past midnight.
Riding the momentum from their win earlier in the day, the Cardinals scored a run in the top of the first to take an early lead.
In the bottom half of the inning, CLU took advantage of eight straight balls to start the game to put Max Weinstein and Sinjin Todd on base. After Gabe Gunter fell in a hole 0-2, he drove the next pitch to right field to load the bases. The North Central starter continued to struggle with command and walked Jimmy Jauregui to allow the tying run to score. With one out, Brad Fullerton grounded into a fielder's choice at second to bring home Todd for the go-ahead run.
After a scoreless second, the Cardinals used a walk and two hits to tie the game at 2-2 in the third.
The Kingsmen continued to respond and took back the lead 3-2 after a Cheynne Giles sac fly scored Jauregui from third on a close play at the plate.
North Central, however, continued the seesaw trend with another run in the fourth to tie the game at 3-3.
CLU answered right back and exploded for a five-run inning to take an 8-3 lead. Jauregui opened the scoring with an RBI double over the left fielder's head while Weston Clark followed with an RBI single to right. The Cardinals were forced to break into their bullpen early and Fullerton took advantage immediately with an RBI single off the first pitch he saw. Trey Saito capped off the scoring in the frame with a clutch two-out, two-RBI single up the middle.
Not going down without a fight, North Central's Chris Hill drove a two-run homerun over the left field wall to cut the CLU lead to three, 8-5, and end Kingsmen starter Scott Roberts night after four innings, seven hits, five runs and four strikeouts. Troy Frazier entered for the Violet and Gold and induced a double play to end the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth, Saito helped the Kingsmen gain the two runs back with another RBI base hit to drive in Fullerton, who singled to start the inning. Saito advanced to second on a balk, and on a heads up play, stole third and scored on an overthrow.
It turned out to be a key play as the Cardinals rallied for three runs in the eighth inning before Miguel Salud came in and shut down North Central for his 13th save of the season, tying Aaron Roth for a CLU single-season record.
In relief, Frazier tossed 3.1 innings while allowing six hits and two runs while coming through in key situations to get the Kingsmen out of multiple jams. Salud allowed just one hit in his 1.2 innings to close out the game.
At the plate, CLU racked up 12 hits with two apiece from Gunter, Jauregui, Clark, Fullerton and Giles. Saito led the way with three RBIs while Jauregui and Fullerton added two apiece. Weinstein, Todd, Jauregui and Fullerton also scored two times each.
Cal Lutheran (38-10) will take on the Presidents in game one of the National Championship series tomorrow, May 29 beginning at 1:00 p.m. PT. CLU advances to its third National Championship in school history and first since 1996. The Kingsmen have finished as a runner-up both times.
Box Score: CLU 10, NC 8
Tournament Central: 2017 NCAA Division III Baseball Championships
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