LEWISTON, Idaho – A six-run second inning propelled the Georgia Gwinnett College baseball team to open the Avista NAIA World Series with a 7-6 victory against MidAmerica Nazarene University (Kansas) Friday morning at Lewis-Clark State College’s Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho.
The Grizzlies (46-14) have won 15 straight postseason games, including all five games last year in capturing the program’s first World Series championship. The team advances to face top-seed Southeastern University (Florida) on Saturday, May 28, at 3 p.m. pacific time.
“We have the right guys, the right mix, right balance, and most importantly the right mindset. Every player understands his role in the lineup. We continue to learn with each game and will come back with a better game plan for tomorrow,” said head coach Jeremy Sheetinger.
GGC, the No. 8 seed in the 10-team double-elimination tournament field, tallied 11 hits in Friday’s opening-round game, with three players recording two hits.
Ninth-seeded MidAmerica Nazarene (39-17) opened the scoring behind Noah Castillo’s two-run home run over the left field fence in the top of the first inning.
However, the Grizzlies responded by managing to add a run of its own in the bottom half of the inning when freshman Braxton Meguiar scored on a ground out by sophomore Chase Evans.
The Pioneers took a 3-1 lead after a two-out triple and passed ball in the top of the second inning.
That’s when GGC’s offense was set into motion, with the bottom of the batting order leading the way – producing a six-run second inning that gave the Grizzlies the lead needed to win the game.
Senior J.D. Stubbs lined a single to left-center field to start the productive inning. Junior Myles McKisic got on the base paths after being hit by a pitch and sophomore Joshua Holt Jr. followed with a single through the right side to load the bases. Junior Blaze O’Saben tied the game, 3-3, with a two-run single to left field.
Meguiar gave the Grizzlies a 4-3 lead with a run-scoring ground out to second base. Senior Livingston Morris later added a sacrifice fly to bring home O’Saben for the team’s fifth run of the game. A throwing error with two outs by MidAmerica Nazarene allowed two additional runs to score for GGC’s 7-3 advantage.
O’Saben led the team’s 11-hit offensive attack by going 2-for-4 and driving in two runs. Holt Jr. also had two hits and scored one run, while junior Jake Defries tallied two hits and had two stolen bases.
MidAmerica Nazarene mounted a late rally by scoring one run in the seventh inning before Castillo hit his second home run of the game, this one a solo round-tripper, in a two-run eighth inning that trimmed the deficit to 7-6, with the threat of adding even more runs.
The Pioneers had the potential game-tying run at second base with two outs in the frame. That’s when Sheetinger called upon the Grizzlies’ deep bullpen.
Junior reliever Jonathan Haab got Ryan Leo to pop up within the infield to end the threat. The right hander proceeded to retire three straight batters in the top of the ninth inning to preserve the one-run victory.
“(Haab) has been that guy for us in the late innings. He once again shut the door (on the opposing team’s scoring threat),” Sheetinger said. “When we give the ball to him, we know that the game is in good hands.”
Senior starting pitcher Gavin Heltemes struck out five batters and allowed four runs across six innings to pick up the victory. The right hander tossed four consecutive scoreless frames after the second inning to improve to 8-1 on the season.
“We stayed true to who we are, how we score runs and how we go about creating pressure (on the opposing team),” coach Sheetinger said We could have done a better job of creating more separation during the middle innings, but the run we scratched across in the first inning paved the way for the big second inning, which changed the dynamic of the game. It gave Gavin (Heltemes) and our team a chance to breathe.”
MidAmerica Nazarene was putting together a late-inning rally, scoring one run in the seventh inning and then two runs in the eighth. With two outs and the potential game-tying run at second base, the Grizzlies turned to junior reliever Jonathan Haab to get out the jam. The right hander got Ryan Leo to pop up to second base to maintain the one-run advantage. Haab then retired the Pioneers in order in the ninth inning to secure his third save of the season and advance the Grizzlies into the winner’s bracket of the World Series.
Junior Jake Defries stole two bases to increase his season total to 58 steals.
GGC improves to 46-14 on the season; MidAmerica Nazarene falls to 39-17 in 2022.
Georgia Gwinnett College is scheduled to play No. 1 seed Southeastern University (Florida) on Saturday, May 28, at the Avista NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, starting at 3 p.m. pacific time.