LEWISTON, Idaho - For six innings Lee appeared to be in control in a win-or-go-home battle against Rogers State (Okla.) on Wednesday afternoon in the NAIA World Series at Harris Field. However, a couple of Hillcat standouts, Eric Baker and relief pitcher Casey Cassity had the final say in the Flames' 7-5 defeat.
The loss ended an outstanding Lee season at 56-11-1 while Rogers State (49-15) lived to play another day. The Hillcats join Tennessee Wesleyan and LSU-Shreveport in the final three. Shreveport remained in the hunt late Wednesday by handing TWC its first Series defeat. The two teams will square off again on Thursday, while Rogers State received the bye and will play the winner on Friday for the championship.
Rogers State took an early 1-0 lead off starter Jose Samayoa but the Flames came firing back in the top of the second inning and lit up the scoreboard for five runs. Corey Davis led off the inning with a home run over the right-field fence. The Lee designated hitter finished the day with three hits in four plate appearances.
With one out, Roberto Duran singled and Trevor Burgess followed with a two-run homer to right center. It was Burgess' second home run of the year, but the Flames were not done. Brady Renner walked and Jorge Saez singled. Both scored when Blake Barber tripled to cap off the big inning.
The rally spelled the beginning of the end for the Flames' hitting attack. The following seven innings went scoreless and the Hillcats, a team which had come from behind the entire tournament, began to slowly gain the victory momentum.
Cassity came on in relief of starter Brandon Bargas in the fourth inning. The lefty gave up only two hits the rest of the afternoon, a single by Davis in the fifth and a double to Renner in the seventh. In fact, it was the seventh inning that hurt the Flames' chances the most. Renner started the inning with a double and Saez popped out on a sacrifice-bunt attempt. A strikeout and a fly-out followed to kill the chances of badly needed runs. Cassity induced 13 fly-ball outs. He struck out only one hitter and walked one.
"It hurt us not being able to build on a four-run lead that we built after the second inning," said head coach Mark Brew. "We knew Rogers State would make a run and needed more runs to try and negate that. Samayoa gave us a good start but our inability to build on our lead ended up being the difference in the game.
In the meantime, Baker was a one-man wrecking crew for the winners. He finished the day with a triple and two doubles. He drove in four runs and scored once. With the Flames still on top 5-1 heading into the fifth inning, Cade McKewon and Keith Powerud reached on a single and a walk. Baker immediately drove both home with a two-base knock to cut the lead to 5-3.
In the seventh, it was Poverud and Bargas who began the rally with singles. Baker walked to the plate again and promptly pushed both runners across the dish with another double. He later scored on a RBI single by Colton Campbell and that was plenty for Cassity as the Hillcats who went out on top 7-5.
Samayoa hurled six innings. The right-hander allowed seven hits, five earned runs, struck out five, walked two. Matt Passauer
, who was charged with the defeat, worked 1/3 on an inning allowing two hits and two earned runs. Joe Fabre came on for 2/3 of an inning and allowed a couple of hits but no earned runs, while Andy Hillis
pitched the final frame and gave up one hit.
"We are certainly disappointed with the outcome of the past two days," said Brew. "We came out here with high expectations but fell short of our goal. Putting the overall season in perspective, we have to be proud of what we were able to accomplish. We finished in the final four for the fifth consecutive year and that speaks volumes to the level of consistency we have been able to build in our program.
"My hat is off to this group of guys. They have been a pleasure to coach and a resilient group on the field. They performed equally as well in the classroom. I wish the group of seniors the best as they finish degrees or the ones that have graduated head into the work force. They will be a great asset wherever they end up and I appreciate each one's leadership and commitment to our program over the course of their stay at Lee."