LAWRENCEVILLE — The Georgia Gwinnett College baseball team fell victim to a complete-game pitching effort in a back-and-forth, 3-2 defeat to St. Francis (Ill.) in the Grizzlies’ national postseason debut on Day 1 of the 2014 NAIA Baseball Championship’s Lawrenceville Bracket.
The fifth-seeded Fighting Saints notched a pair of victories to move forward in the winner’s bracket, also defeating fourth-seeded Westmont (Calif.) by one run in Game 1 Monday. In Game 2, second-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) slugged its way to a win over third-seeded William Woods (Mo.).
In the top-seeded Grizzlies’ first-ever national championship action, GGC built a 2-1 lead by the sixth inning but two scores by St. Francis in the seventh proved to be the difference in the low-scoring affair.
Jake Fields had four hits for GGC — the designated road team — in the losing effort.
Georgia Gwinnett (48-11) had seven hits as a team and failed to convert on three Fighting Saints’ errors, leaving 11 runners stranded on base.
Starting pitcher Jacob Butler (10-2) produced USF’s second complete-game effort of the day, striking out seven batters and pitching around four walks.
Georgia Gwinnett starter Alex Roberts (7-2) went 6.1 innings, striking out a pair of batters with no walks.
David Kuhne had three hits to lead the Fighting Saints’ offense while Brandon Mendoza drove in two key runs.
Neither team scored until the fifth inning.
With USF (38-20) threatening with runners on second and third base with two outs in the third inning, center fielder Ty Abbott made a diving grab on a shot in right-center to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.
Mendoza’s two-out RBI single in the fifth inning opened the scoring as USF went ahead, 1-0, but the Grizzlies answered with two scores in the top half of the sixth.
With a runner on second base, Fields bounced a ball over the pitcher’s mound that got loose in the infield, allowing Phillip Bates to motor around and tie the game. Later in the inning with the bases loaded, Zach Alvord drew a walk to bring in the go-ahead run to make it 2-1, GGC.
The Grizzlies left the bases loaded to end the top of the seventh and St. Francis took advantage in the bottom of the inning. Kuhne’s double into the left field corner scored Luke Wyss to tie the game, 2-2. Mendoza added a sacrifice fly to push the Fighting Saints ahead, 3-2, with what would prove to be the winning score.
The Grizzlies put two more runners on base with their final chance in the ninth inning, but a pop out and a ground out ended the threat and the game.
“Their pitcher did not miss a pitch all night and he was very, very impressive with his performance,” said Grizzlies head coach Brad Stromdahl. “We just didn’t come up with the big hit. I love the way we battled. We fought hard all day and now we need to regroup and come back tomorrow when it’s all hands on deck.”
Georgia Gwinnett will play Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. in an elimination game against Tuesday’s Game 4 winner between Westmont and William Woods.
Game 1- St. Francis 2, Westmont 1
In a pitcher’s duel between St. Francis’ Adam Panayotovich and Westmont’s Torin Shaikh, the Fighting Saints emerged victorious in the opening game of the Lawrenceville Bracket thanks to a pinch-hit RBI single in the eighth inning.
Both pitchers went the distance in the contest and allowed just one earned run apiece, with Panayotovich striking out six Warriors without allowing a walk in recording the win.
Anthony Feliciano had two of the Fighting Saints’ nine hits on offense, while Joey Gonzales did the same to lead Westmont (38-18).
Matt Scott’s pinch-hit RBI single in the top of the eighth inning scored Brandon Mendoza to push USF ahead and Panayotovich finished the complete-game effort over the final two innings to advance St. Francis to the winner’s bracket.
Game 2- Southeastern 11, William Woods 5
Southeastern (45-14) broke out the bats for the Game 2 win, building an 11-1 lead through 3.5 innings.
William Woods (39-11) had 13 hits of its own and tried to mount a rally, but the Fire pitching staff stranded 14 Owls baserunners in the win.
Southeastern’s Aldo Ferrante led all players with three RBIs.
The Fire jumped in front thanks to a four-run third inning, using five hits in the frame.
William Woods put one run on the board in the bottom of the inning but Southeastern added to its lead with a big top of the fourth. Ferrante’s three-run double keyed a seven-run fourth inning as the Fire took an 11-1 advantage.
The Owls’ bats came alive in the sixth inning and William Woods scored four runs on five hits to trim the deficit to 11-5.
William Woods loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh inning, but reliever Josh Egert induced a flyout to end the threat and finished the rest of the way on the mound to preserve the win for the Fire.
William Woods and Westmont will meet in an elimination game Tuesday at 11 a.m., while Southeastern and St. Francis will meet at 2:30 p.m. in the winner’s bracket.