The Freed-Hardeman University Lions baseball team (47-15) is headed back to Idaho after defeating Oklahoma Wesleyan (46-11) 5-4 in the winner-take-all game on Thursday in the Henderson Bracket of the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round.
After the Eagles were able to defeat the Lions 8-3 on Tuesday, the hosts were forced to win three straight games in order to punch their ticket to the 2019 Avista-NAIA World Series. After Jacob Sawyers pitched a monsterful complete game in the 5-1 win over Texas Wesleyan and Tyson Campbell threw 149 pitches in eight and two-thirds innings to defeat the Eagles 7-4, both on Wednesday, the Lions had the chance to win the rubber match with the No. 1 seed and prevailed.
The game was everything one would expect out of a win-or-go-home match-up between two of the strongest teams in the nation. The Eagles got on the board first in the second inning with two runs off the Lions’ ace Alex Huey, who was starting the game on only two days rest after throwing 108 pitches in the opening game against Texas Wesleyan on Monday.
After Huey threw five and one-thirds innings and Tyrek White came in the game in relief to throw two-thirds of an inning, Landon Sewell entered and finished the game for the Lions and earned the win after three full innings of work. The junior right hander was able to put the bottom of the Eagles lineup away in order in the top of the ninth to seal the win and earn the Lions’ second straight World Series berth.
The crowds throughout the week in support of the Lions were strong due to Henderson being named one of the nine host sites for this year’s Opening Round.
Head coach Jonathan Estes was adamant about the strength of his team to fight back after falling on Tuesday, and he gave a lot of credit to the crowds that supported the host team.
“This was such a special experience, being at home, being able to host, and to play in front of our fans and our community,” Estes said.
“Our community showed up in numbers, Freed-Hardeman showed up in numbers, our fans showed up in numbers, and it was such a fun experience. We knew that even though we lost the other day, we knew that we would be able to accomplish great things because this team has shown that we are able to do that, not only this year, but in the past. It was such a great experience to be able to do this on our home field. It’s something that I’m not ever going to forget, and I’m sure these players and these fans won’t as well.”
The bracket for the 2019 Avista-NAIA World Series will be released on Friday no later than 2 p.m.
Force if-necessary game
A complete-game effort by Jacob Sawyers and a 149-pitch night by Tyson Campbell highlighted the afternoon and evening for the Lions (46-15) as they were able to defeat Texas Wesleyan (46-16) 5-1 in the first game of the day Wednesday, May 15, followed by a 7-4 win over Oklahoma Wesleyan (46-10) to force the if-necessary game on Thursday.
The Eagles of Oklahoma Wesleyan got the best of the Lions in their Tuesday-afternoon match-up with an 8-3 win, but the Lions were able to get revenge on Wednesday night.
Campbell – making his first start on the mound in over six weeks – went eight and two-thirds innings and threw 149 pitches en route to the clutch win.
Campbell wasn’t the only Lions starting pitcher to throw arguably his best game of the season on Wednesday. Sawyers got the start against the Rams in the elimination game and threw a complete game, something the Lions desperately needed him to do in order to get some rest for the other pitchers on the postseason roster.
Campbell struck out 11 batters in his start, and Sawyers came away with six. Campbell went back out to the mound to start the ninth inning and was able to get two outs before giving up a run that cut the Lions lead to just three. Head coach Jonathan Estes decided to go to his bullpen and had Landon Sewell close out the game. Sewell was able to get the final out and earn the one-out save and giving Campbell the win.
Dom Pisano went a combined five-for-eight in the two contests and had three RBIs. Josh Sears also had three RBIs, including a a solo home run over the right-field wall in the seventh.