MONTGOMERY, Ala. - After blasting Indiana Tech 15-2 earlier in the day, top-ranked Faulkner ripped previously unbeaten Texas Wesleyan 9-1 behind the dominating performance of starter Julian Esquibel
here Saturday night to force a winner-take-all championship game in the Montgomery Bracket of the NAIA Baseball National Championships Opening at Harrison Field.
Coming off a 4-2 extra-inning loss Friday afternoon to Texas Wesleyan, the Eagles faced elimination when they took the field Saturday afternoon against Indiana Tech. Jeremy Holcombe
threw seven strong innings, as Faulkner scored early and often en route to the victory that set up the rematch with the 16th-ranked Rams. It was obvious from the start that Esquibel, who improved to 10-2 with the win, was in complete control, striking out at least one batter each inning in the complete-game five-hitter. His 15 strikeout total was a career high by four, and he didn't walk a single batter.
"I came into this game well rested, and I think that helped me some," said the Vista, Calif., native, who hadn't pitched since April 26 because his scheduled start in the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament title game was rained out. "I approached the game with the same mindset though, and that was to pound the strike zone. I'm not really a strikeout pitcher though, and Coach Mac (head coach Patrick McCarthy
) teaches to pitch to contact, but tonight things just started rolling. I couldn't ask for a better night. It was my best in a very important game."
The winner of Monday's game, which starts at 1 p.m., punches its ticket to the Avista-NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, set for May 24-31.
After Faulkner took an early lead on Luis Sanchez
's RBI triple in the top of the third, Texas Wesleyan (42-17) tied it in the bottom half on Trevor Moon's solo home run. Esquibel had retired the first seven Ram hitters prior to Moon's blast, and he he quickly regained control, allowing only five baserunners the rest of the way. Faulkner scored twice in the sixth inning to take the lead for good, with one coming across on a balk called on Ram starter Derek Vaughn. The second run scored on an Esteban Paula
push bunt, putting the Eagles on top 3-1.
Faulkner put the game away in the seventh, with Zak Colby
's lone two-run homer the key blow. Three Texas Wesleyan errors in the inning, combined with a double from Michael Cruz
, allowed three more runs to score as the lead ballooned to 8-1. Sergio Sanchez
doubled in the Eagles' final run in the ninth inning. Vaughn (6-6) took the loss for the Rams, giving up seven runs in a six-inning performance.
"Their guy had a really good fast ball, and I had seen it all night, so I was waiting on it with the count at 3-1," said Colby, who caught both pivotal games for the Eagles. "He gave me what I was looking for, and I didn't miss it. It was probably my biggest hit of the season, considering how big this game was. The best part of the night was catching Julian. He was lights out, and he's never been better. He was amazing."
For Faulkner, the two wins Saturday push the season's victory total to 50, the most ever won by a Patrick McCarthy
-coached team. The two-time SSAC coach of the year was proud of his team for responding positively to the adversity resulting from Friday afternoon's setback.
"It was a good day for us, one we had to have, but all it does is put us in the same position as Texas Wesleyan," McCarthy said. "We have great respect for their team. They're as well-coached a team as we've seen all year. When two really good teams get together, the team that executes the best is usually going to win. We did that tonight. Monday is another day, and we are well aware that coach (Mike) Jeffcoat's team will be ready. We plan to be too."
In the blowout victory over Indiana Tech, Faulkner scored five times in the first inning and never looked back, building a 15-1 lead through four innings. Cruz blasted his third home run of the tournament, and drove in three runs in the game. Sergio Sanchez
had three hits and four RBIs. Dauris Holguin
also drove in a pair of runs for the Eagles, who had 14 hits in the win. Every day center fielder Brook Boudreaux
, who could only courtesy run for Colby because of a wrist injury, scored three times for Faulkner, as did Luis Sanchez
Against Indiana Tech, Holcomb was excellent, scattering 10 hits in seven innings while allowing just one run to improve his record to 5-0. Dustin Spruiell
and Justin Hallmark
each pitched an inning in relief to wrap it up for Faulkner, which had 20 players see action in the game. Indiana Tech starter Zach Sailors didn't last the first inning and took the loss for the Warriors, who finished their season at 33-18.