Thunder, lightning and not even Tornados could stand in the way of the Cal Lutheran baseball team as they captured the 2017 NCAA Division III West Regional Championship with a 9-7 victory over the Concordia (Texas) Tornados on Sunday evening to advance to the College World Series for the sixth time in program history.
Early morning thunderstorms postponed the original start time by four hours and forced a location change to Mike Carter Field, an all turf field home to the Tyler Junior College baseball team.
As the clouds started to clear and the game began, the Tornados jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead after piecing together three singles in the opening frame.
CLU responded with a pair of runs in the second to even the score on RBIs from Trey Saito and Austin Kay but Concordia struck again with two more runs in the third to go up 4-2.
After the Tornados threatened once again with a runner in scoring position in the top of the fourth, Sinjin Todd made a sensational leaping catch at the left field wall to save a run and spark the Violet and Gold.
In the bottom half of the inning, Saito and Max Weinstein singled to put two runners on and Todd came up clutch yet again with an RBI single to center. On the very next pitch, Gabe Gunter drove a ball deep over the 20-foot high wall in right field for a three-run homerun to give the Kingsmen a 6-4 lead.
CLU continued to pour it on in the fifth inning with three more runs after starting the inning with four straight singles. Cheynne Giles led things off with a single to right while Saito and Kay came through with crafty bunt singles to load the bases. Weinstein proceeded to drive home Giles while Todd drove in Saito on a sac fly and Kay came around on a wild pitch to put the Kingsmen ahead 9-4.
The Tornados made it interesting with three runs in the seventh to make it a 9-7 ball game and loaded the bases in the ninth, but the Kingsmen were able to slam the door and clinch the championship.
Marshall Pautsch (9-2) started the game on short rest and went five innings, scattering nine hits while giving up four runs and striking out three. Nate Wehner, meanwhile, struck out six in his 3.2 innings of relief, including striking out the side in a crucial eighth inning. In a critical situation with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, Miguel Salud earned his 11th save after getting the final batter to ground out to Weston Clark at first base.
Saito finished 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI while Weinstein went 3-for-5 with one run and one RBI. Todd, Giles and Kay put together two hits apiece and Gunter led the team with three RBIs.
Kylen Harrell (1-2) picked up the loss for the Tornados after going 3.2 innings and allowing eight hits and six runs.
Cal Lutheran (35-10) will head to Appleton, Wis. for the 2017 NCAA Division III College World Series set to begin Friday, May 26 and go through Wednesday, May 31. The Kingsmen finished third in 1999, and have two runner-up finishes coming in 1992 and 1996.