LEWISTON, Idaho - They say every cloud has a silver lining so the Lewis-Clark State College baseball team is going to run with that, especially after Thursday night.
The Warriors were two outs away from claiming their third straight Avista NAIA World Series title when Faulkner University of Alabama rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to capture a 6-5 win at LCSC’s Harris Field in Ed Cheff Stadium.
Faulkner’s win forces the if necessary game in the 10-team double-elimination tournament. LCSC and Faulkner will again battle Friday night starting at 6:35 p.m. for the championship in the 61st annual event.
“I’m happy because we get to keep playing tomorrow,” said LCSC second baseman Gunnar Buhner following the tough loss. “It’s another game where I get to wear the uniform. I am happy about that. I don’t want it to end yet. I don’t want to stop playing with these guys yet. These are my brothers out here and I’m happy.
“I’m not mad about this one because it’s another day we get to play together.”
Buhner did his best to keep the Warriors from having to go an extra game as it was his three-run double in the fifth that put LC ahead until the bottom of the ninth.
Faulkner’s rally was another wild finish to recent outings between the two teams. LCSC won both meetings in the Series a year ago, including a wild 12-11 win in the championship game when Faulkner had the potential tying run thrown out at third base to end the game.
Earlier in this tournament, LCSC claimed an 8-6 win after erasing a 3-0 deficit.
“We know it’s a dog fight every time with these guys,” Buhner said. “It’s always back and forth. It’s a pitcher’s duel, but it’s also a hitter’s duel. It’s not over until it’s over. You saw that tonight. You saw that last year in our final game, and you saw that the first time we met in this tournament. It’s going to be a dog fight and we know it. They got us this time.”
Both teams decided to go with their starters from Monday night and both went seven innings despite just two days rest. Kevin Hamann allowed eight hits and four runs with one walk and five strikeouts for LCSC, while Isreal Fuentes allowed five runs on five hits with six strikeouts and three walks.
Faulkner, 54-11 on the season, started the scoring in the first inning when John Price Jr., who is hitting a tournament-best .529, smacked a solo home run.
The Warriors, 39-14, tied it in the bottom of the fourth when Micah Brown doubled, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Seaver Whalen.
Faulkner regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth on a single by T.J. Condon and an RBI double by Paolo Montezuma.
LCSC then came up with its big inning with a four-run fifth for a 5-2 lead. Tyler McDowell walked, Brock Ephan singled, and Logan Griffin walked to load the bases with no outs. Buhner then ripped his three-run double down the left-field line. A sacrifice bunt by Cooper Goldby moved Buhner to third and he scored on Raymond Pedrina’s sacrifice fly to center.
Faulkner got a run back in the sixth when Condon doubled and scored on a single by Reid Long. Faulkner added another run in the eighth when Tra’mayne Holmes hit a solo home run to make it 5-4 and end Hamann’s night.
LCSC reliever Henry McAree then retired the next three hitters, but issued a walk to Olivier Basabe to start the bottom of the ninth. Pinch-runner Wes Roberson then took second on a wild pitch and scored on a one-out double by Ryan Rosa to tie the game. A single by Michael Darr put runners on first and third when L.D. Coney hit a ball back to McAree. Rosa originally broke for home, but when he saw McAree field the ball and begin to throw home, he started to run back to third. McAree’s high throw home, however, sailed to the backstop and Rosa scored easily to end the game.
“It is just a little bump,” Buhner said of the loss. “The path to success is never going to be a straight line. It’s going to be bumpy and we know that. We know that we are a tough team. We know that we are the toughest team out here. And we work the hardest. And we take pride in that. We take pride in how hard we work and our work ethic.
“It’s not over. We got them again tomorrow so it’s not over.”