MONTECITO, Calif. - After staving off elimination three times in the past two days, the Warriors’ magic ran out in the 12th inning against top-seeded Science and Arts (Okla.), 7-4, as the Drovers booked their ticket to the NAIA World Series with a three-run walk off home run on Westmont’s home field.
“We played a lot of games to get here,” said Westmont head coach Robert Ruiz. “I felt like we were in control of that game for most of it. All I can say is I don’t know that I’ve ever been more proud on a baseball field of a group of guys. These guys deserve all the credit that anyone wants to give them because even when we shouldn’t have, we found a way.”
After the Warriors lost their Santa Barbara Bracket opener on Monday, Westmont won three elimination games in a row, including a 9-2 victory this morning against Antelope Valley, to reach the first championship game. It was the furthest the Warriors have advanced in the Opening Round in program history.
“It’s a testament to who these guys are as men and as people,” said Ruiz. “We’ve had a lot of groups come through here in the last few years, so I don’t want to say this group’s the best group, but this is an unbelievable group of people that are going to be missed a ton - more than I can express in words. You saw the grit these guys have, the determination, just the fortitude to fight and fight and fight when they’re broken physically.”
In the first game today, the Warriors were able to avenge their loss on Monday against Antelope Valley, thanks to a quick start offensively. Just as he did on Tuesday against Arizona Christian, Drew Bayard got the Warriors on the board with a home run, a two-run shot with two outs. It was Bayard’s third home run in the Opening Round and second in two games against the Pioneers.
Bayard then sparked a four-run fourth inning for the Warriors, when his RBI-triple scored Travis Vander Molen from first. After Taylor Garcia walked, Tyler Roper hit a sacrifice fly to score Bayard. Luke Coffey extended the Warriors’ lead to six with a two-out, two-run moonshot to right center field.
Antelope Valley got back a couple runs, first from a Jacob Ogle RBI-single to right in the top of the fifth and then a Kaleyl Anderson solo shot in the top of the sixth. But, those were the only runs the visitors would get, as Westmont starter Toby Dunlap limited the Pioneers to two runs over 5 2/3 innings and 95 pitches.
Dunlap’s longest outing of the season going in was two innings and 35 pitches. The senior right hander, who won the Golden State Athletic Conference shot put title on April 27, exceeded these totals by 3 2/3 innings and 60 pitches with his team’s season on the line.
The Warriors rounded out the scoring with three more runs in the bottom of the seventh, all with the bases loaded. Vander Molen and Taylor Bush hit RBI-singles before Paul Mezurashi walked to bring in Westmont’s ninth run of the ballgame.
Will Anderson came on in relief of Dunlap, pitching 3 1/3 shutout innings to earn the save and eliminate the Pioneers, the third team the Warriors eliminated on their home field.
Westmont used its momentum to strike first against Science and Arts. Roper reached on an infield single and Mezurashi entered for him as a courtesy runner, stealing second base. Bryce Morison walked to put runners on first and second. Then with two outs, Coach Ruiz dialed up a hit and run with Isaiah Leach at the plate, who hit a single through the right side to score Mezurashi. Vander Molen stepped up next, ripping a double down the first-base line to score Morison and Leach, giving the Warriors an early 3-0 lead.
The Drovers got themselves on the board with two outs in the bottom of the third on a two-run single by P.J. Garcia.
Westmont looked poised to add to its one-run lead in the top of the fifth when Coffey and Morison walked with two outs to load the bases, but Drovers’ starter Jean Muntaner got Nicky Sablock to ground out to second, ending the threat.
Science and Arts tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning, as the Warriors were barely unable to turn a double play on an Alex Sanchez grounder. The Drovers then took their first lead in the bottom of the sixth on an Elvin Alamo groundout. They threatened again in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases with two outs, but Anderson came out of the bullpen for his second appearance of the day and got Ian Laureano to fly out to Morison in center.
Anderson then threw a one-two-three scoreless eighth inning, leaving the Warriors down by one and three outs away from their season ending. Vander Molen made sure to prolong Westmont’s season, albeit for just a few innings. His lead off solo blast to right field with a full count tied the game at 4-4 and sent the Westmont faithful into a frenzy. Since the Warriors’ three-run first inning, they had been shut out for seven innings in a row by Muntaner before Vander Molen’s homer.
Anderson ran into some trouble in the bottom of the ninth, as the Drovers had runners on first and second, but the sophomore left hander got Daniel Lefarga to ground into an inning-ending double play, sending the game into extras – Westmont’s first Opening Round extra inning game since 2014 against William Woods (Mo.).
In the top of the 10th, three one-out singles by Morison, Sablock, and Leach loaded the bases for none other than Vander Molen, whose homer had sent the game into extras. However, Drovers’ reliever Rudy Gonzalez got the junior first baseman to strike out swinging, leaving the bases loaded with two outs for Bush, who flew out to center on the first pitch he saw.
That was the best chance Westmont had to score in extra innings before Laureano’s walk-off home run stunned the Warriors and sent the Drovers to their third NAIA World Series appearance in the past four years.
“I thought that they did a phenomenal job, up to and including that ninth, scratching and clawing in the extra innings to keep it where it was and give us an opportunity to keep playing,” said Ruiz on his team’s performance.
The Warriors finish the sea
son with a record of 37-16, including three wins in the Opening Round, the most in program history.
“It’s an awesome group of guys,” said Ruiz. “It was a privilege for me to be on the field with them and I can’t say enough about them.”
Article courtesy of Westmont Sports Information.