MONTECITO, Calif. - The Warriors' start in the NAIA Baseball Championship Opening Round Tournament was delayed a day, but top-seeded Westmont made up for it with a pair of victories on the tournament's second day.
In the first game of the day, Westmont posted a 7-6 victory over fourth-seeded British Columbia (35-20) in ten innings. Then, in the third game of the day on Russ Carr Field, Westmont defeated second-seeded Benedictine Mesa (42-13) by a score of 9-2.
With the twin wins, the Warriors advance to the championship series on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. Westmont's opponent will be the sole survivor of two elimination games on Wednesday. At 11:00 a.m. tomorrow, third-seeded Vanguard will take on fourth-seeded British Columbia. The winner will advance to take on Benedictine Mesa at 2:30 p.m.
In the early game, the Warriors jumped out to a 1-0 lead over the Thunderbirds of British Columbia when Bryce McFeely singled to center, driving in Brady Renck. Renck had previously reached on a single to left, then stole second.
Westmont extended its advantage to 2-0 when Ryan DeSaegher reached on a fielder's choice that allowed Robbie Haw to score from third. Haw started the inning off with a double to right center and reached third when Renck singled through the right side.
With sophomore ace Bryan Peck on the mound, the Warriors took a 2-0 lead into the eighth inning. Peck, who had been scheduled to start at four o'clock on Monday, had to recalibrate his pre-game routine when the game was rescheduled for a 9:00 a.m. start the following day.
"I am proud of the way he stepped up when the game was delayed from yesterday to 9:00 a.m. today," said Westmont's head coach Tyler LaTorre. "His ability to make that change was a huge testimony to his preparation and what he does for us.
"Peck was unreal. He was efficient with the ball and got big strikeouts when he needed it. In the first couple of innings, he had a couple of hit by pitches and a couple of walks to get himself in trouble, but he had the stuff to get out of it. All those extra pitches in the first couple of innings may have worn him down in the eighth inning, but he gave us everything he had."
In the eighth, Peck gave up two unearned runs before coming out of the game. He had allowed just four hits over seven and two-third innings while throwing 104 pitches.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, that was not the end of the scoring. The Thunderbirds recorded six runs in the innings, largely on two home runs – a two-run shot to center by Brandon Hupe and a three-run bomb by Kyle Anderson.
The bottom half of the inning proved to be a contrast of styles. Westmont scored four runs to tie the game at six runs each, but did so with six singles – many with two strikes, as La Torre pointed out.
"The bottom of the eight was something that was building throughout the game. We knocked their starter out in the fifth inning," offered LaTorre, referring to the large pitch count of 104 by Sean Heppner in just five innings of work. The Warriors did so with long at bats, forcing Heppner to throw eight, nine or even 10 pitches per batter by repeatedly fouling off strikes.
"To come back after a gut punch like that is what we expect out of our group," said LaTorre. "It has become a theme of the season that we have been tough outs for the opponent, even with two strikes. It showed in getting their starter out after five but also showed in the eighth inning for us, getting some two-strike hits.
The six singles came from Parker O'Neil, Finn Snyder, Shane Hofstadler, Michael Soper, Haw and Renck. Renck's single to right drove in two runs to tie the game.
With the score tied in the top of the ninth, Gabe Arteaga came in to pitch. Arteaga would ultimately be credited with the win after pitching the final two scoreless innings and allowing just one hit.
The game was decided in the bottom of the tenth inning of play.
"A lead-off single by Critchett and a bunt base hit by Soper set the table for Robbie Haw who has been having an unbelievable postseason," recalled LaTorre. "For Haw to get the game winning hit is amazing for him and his career. He is a leader and a guy we want up at bat."
Haw's walk-off was a single through the left side that drove in Daniel Patterson from second. Patterson was running for Critchett.
The team rushed the field, mobbed Haw and erupted in celebration.
In game one, Haw tallied four hits, including the teams' only extra-base hit, on six at bats with two runs scored and two RBIs. Renck tallied four hits on five at bats, one run scored and two RBIs.
The Warriors second game was the fifth game of the tournament.
"Game five of the series is important because a win puts you into the championship round where you have to be beaten twice," noted LaTorre. "It also gives us an off-day tomorrow."
Entrusted with the pitching responsibilities in the critical game was Eric Oseguera.
"Osy was unbelievable today," praised LaTorre. "For him to go out there and pitch the way he did was absolutely fun to watch. In the biggest spot, he put us in a position to control our destiny."
Oseguera needed just 62 pitches to complete six innings of work. He allowed just one run on three hits, struck out two and walked one.
Asked why he didn't leave him in longer, LaTorre replied, "Osy hasn't had a large pitch count all year. They were coming up for the third time to face him. We had a sizable lead and some guys who hadn't thrown yet with a day off looming. He did his job in six innings and then some."
Aiden Holly came into the game in relief and allowed one run on three hits in an inning on one-third of work. He also struck out two batters.
Then, Zach Yates closed out the final inning and two-thirds, retiring all five batters he faced to secure the Warrior win.
Like the first game, Westmont scored a single run in the first inning. With the bases loaded, McFeely smashed a ball off the pitcher's glove that redirected to the shortstop. The play resulted in a fortuitous double-play for the Redhawks, but also allowed Haw to score from third.
After Benedictine Mesa tied the game in the top of the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Dylan Bangs, the Warriors put up two runs in the bottom of the fourth. With one away, Shane Hofstadler walked and was replaced by Trey Dunn as a courtesy runner. Another out later, Haw was hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. That brought up Renck who sent a triple into right field to drive in Dunn and Haw, making the score 3-1.
After recording four hits in game one, Renck went three of four from the plate in game two with two doubles and a triple. He scored one run and drove in three.
Westmont stretched its lead to 4-1 when Finn Snyder drove the ball onto the road behind the left field fence for a solo home run.
"He has been putting together good at bats all postseason," said LaTorre.
In the sixth inning, Westmont extended its lead with three more runs. Hofstadler produced an infield single to lead off the inning, then reached second on an error. One out later, with Dunn running at second, Haw flew out to deep center field allowing Dunn to reach third. Renck followed with an RBI double to left center, then took third on a wild pitch. He scored when DeSaegher singled to right. DeSaegher went three of five in the game.
With Paul Mezurashi pinch running for DeSaegher, McFeely walked, advancing Mezurashi to second. Then, O'Neil singled to right center to plate Mezurashi and make the score 7-1.
Benedictine added a single run in the eighth to account for the final score.
Thursday, in the championship series, the Warriors will have an opportunity to advance to the NAIA World Series for the second year in a row and just the second time in program history.
(Article courtesy of Westmont Athletics)