Dale Long, Sports Information Director
LEWISTON, Idaho – The 2021 Avista NAIA World Series championship banner is headed to Lawrenceville as the Georgia Gwinnett College baseball team captured the program’s first national championship Thursday night with an 8-4 victory over Central Methodist University (Missouri).
The Grizzlies (51-10), the tournament’s No. 5 seed, won all five of their World Series games, outscoring opponents by a 52-30, hit nine home runs, and got five quality starting pitching assignments to capture the title in the first championship round appearance.
“This has been the most resilient and toughest team, mentally, that I have been associated with. Even when things got hectic (in the eighth inning) there was love and trust among every player in the dugout,” said GGC Head Coach Jeremy Sheetinger. “I had a front row seat to watch the best college baseball team in the country play.”
Georgia Gwinnett started fast and continued to tack on runs during the middle innings.
Junior J.D. Stubbs opened the second inning with a towering home run over the center field fence. A few batters later, freshman Chase Evans lined an RBI double down the right field line to score sophomore Myles McKisic from first base to give the team a 2-0 lead.
Run-scoring singles from senior Kyle Harvey and junior Cord Johnson in the third and fourth frames, respectively, extended the lead to four runs, 4-0.
Then the Grizzlies broke things open with four more runs in the sixth inning. Senior Gabe Howell hit a RBI single to center field before junior Nick Barnes brought home a pair of runs with a double to right field to give GGC an 8-0 advantage.
Senior starting pitcher Hunter Dollander was brilliant in his final pitching performance. The right hander struck out nine batters and scattered five hits across seven innings. Dollander, named the World Series’ Most Valuable Player, improved to 12-1 on the season and concluded his collegiate career with a 28-2 record.
“It is surreal to end my career as a national champion. Everybody trusted me to get the job done. I just wanted to go out and compete to give my team a chance,” Dollander said. “Having early run support helped ease the nerves and settle into the game. I was able to spot my fastball anywhere I wanted. That allowed me to throw my breaking ball off the same (motion) locations.”
Central Methodist (49-9) made things interesting late by pushing across four runs in the eighth inning. McKisic ended the frame, with the bases loaded, through a diving catch down the right field line from his second base position. The defensive web gem kept GGC ahead 8-4 with three outs to go.
“I was going after the ball all-out because I knew the game was on the line with two outs (and the bases loaded),” McKisic said. “I was determined to make the play.”
Senior closer Hunter Caudelle tossed a scoreless ninth inning and secured the team’s historic victory by grabbing a line drive smash while being on the mound.
Besides his strong defensive play, McKisic played a key role in the Grizzlies’ offense by going 4-for-4 and scoring three runs in the championship game. The team outhit the No. 2-seeded Eagles by a 15-7 margin and relied on four multiple-hit performances in the game.
Senior Kyle Harvey, juniors Livingston Morris and Austin Bates, joined Dollander on the all-tournament team. Bates earned the Charles Berry Hustle Award and Howell took home the Gold Glove award.
GGC won 22 of its last 23 games of the season and entered postseason play ranked No. 6 in the final poll of the regular season.
“Our ability to apply more pressure was key tonight and throughout the tournament. It just built more confidence and led to success on the mound,” said Sheetinger, who now has a 74-12 record in two seasons in the team’s dugout. “We never took our foot off the accelerator against any of our opponents.”
Georgia Gwinnett College’s Office of Athletics has now won 14 NAIA national championship, including the third during the 2021 spring athletic season. The college’s men’s and women’s tennis teams won national titles in May.
GGC is the first baseball national collegiate baseball champion from Georgia since 2002 when Columbus State University captured the NCAA Division II title. It is the fourth time a Georgia team has won the NAIA national baseball championship and first since 1997 when Brewton-Parker College earned the championship banner.