Top-ranked Fire pulls away from RedStorm

By Randy Payton - For Ohio Valley Publishing

MACON, Ga. — Top-ranked Southeastern (Fla.) University spotted the University of Rio Grande a first inning lead before limiting the RedStorm to just one hit over the final eight frames en route to a 7-2 victory in the winner’s bracket final of the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round Macon Bracket, Tuesday afternoon, at historic Luther Williams Field.

The top-seeded Fire improved to 50-10 with the win and earned a berth in Wednesday’s championship first final of the double-elimination tournament at 2:30 p.m.

Rio Grande, the tourney’s No. 3 seed, slipped to 39-20 with the loss and will face second-seeded – and 10th-ranked – Middle Georgia State in Wednesday’s 11 a.m. loser’s bracket final with the winner advancing to the title game.

The host Knights, who fell to the RedStorm in Monday’s first round, remained alive with elimination wins over No. 4 seed Huntington (Ind.) and fifth-seeded University of British Columbia in Tuesday’s other games.

Southeastern took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Manuel Mesa opened the game with an infield single, stole second, moved to third on single by Dominic Anagnos and scored when Ivan Nunez grounded into a double play.

Rio Grande gained the lead with a two-our rally in the bottom of the inning.

Senior David Rodriguez (Santo Domingo, D.R.) singled and moved to second on an error before scoring moments later on a double by senior Michael Rodriguez (Santo Domingo, D.R.). Junior Eli Daniels (Minford, OH) followed with a walk, setting the stage for a run-scoring single by freshman Gustavo Nava (Barranquilla, Columbia) which made it 2-1.

However, the RedStorm managed just one hit and advanced only two runners beyond first base the rest of the way.

Freshman Brandon Pritchard (Janesville, OH) singled with one out in the second and eventually reached second base on a two-out wild pitch, while David Rodriguez walked with one out in the fifth and moved to second when Daniels was hit by a pitch with two outs. Neither moved any further.

Meanwhile, Rio junior starter Zach Kendall (Troy, OH) did his best to maintain the RedStorm’s early advantage against an offense which ranks either first or second nationally in nine different categories.

The lead held up until the Fire pushed across three runs in the fifth to take the lead for good.

Consecutive one-out hits by Adam DeLaCruz, Willie Estrada and Mesa knotted the score at 2-2, while an infield hit by Nunez broke the deadlock and an error later in the frame pushed the Southeastern lead to 4-2.

That’s how things stayed until the ninth, when the Fire parlayed three hits and another Rio error into a second three-run inning which squashed any hopes of the RedStorm rallying for a stunning win.

Estrada opened the inning with a single and was replaced by pinch-runner Alec Thomas, who moved to third when Mesa reached on an error.

Kendall was lifted in favor of freshman Victor Feliz (Santo Domingo, D.R.), who promptly walked Anagnos to load the bases. A single by Nunez made it 5-2 and a ground-rule double off the bat of pinch-hitter Dan Valerio plated two more runs to set the final score.

Kendall suffered the loss for Rio Grande, allowing 13 hits and six runs – only three of which were earned – over eight-plus innings.

Kevin Long started and got the win for Southeastern, allowing four hits and two runs over seven innings. He also walked four and struck out six.

Heibert Romero struck out one in two scoreless innings of relief to get a save.

Nunez and Estrada both had three hits to lead the Fire offensively, while Mesa and Mike Taylor, Jr. contributed two hits in each in a 15-hit attack.

By Randy Payton

For Ohio Valley Publishing

Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.

Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.