All good things must come to an end and for the Northwestern Baseball team, its dream 2018 season came to a stunning conclusion with an 8-7 loss to (RV) Cumberland (Tenn.) in an elimination game in the Upland Bracket of the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round. The Red Raiders end with a 30-20 overall record, tying for the fifth-most wins in program history.
With Northwestern leading 7-4 going into the bottom of the eighth inning, Victor Mena (3-4), who had retired seven straight Cumberland batters coming into the inning, sent the first two CU batters down on a couple of harmless pop-ups. Phoenix first-baseman drew a two-out walk, went to third on a single by Caleb Kellogg and Hector Morales followed with another walk to load the bases. Cumberland shortstop and No.8 hitter then sent a 1-0 pitch over the leftfield fence for a grandslam, his fifth home run of the season, giving his team its first lead since the third inning.
Down by a run, the Red Raiders put the tying run at second with one out on a Michael Callahan single and sacrifice bunt by Matt Martin. Cumberland reliever Andy Garretson (1-0) recorded back-to-back strikeouts to end it and send the Phoenix into another elimination game on Wednesday.
Trailing 2-1 early, Northwestern scored two runs in the fourth and four more in the top of the fifth to take a 7-2 lead. Martin and Dustin Gaither led off the fourth with singles and Martin scored after a bunt by Colton Harold and error on Cumberland second baseman, advancing Gaither to third. Ben De Boer perfectly executed a safety squeeze, scoring Gaither, to compete the two-run fourth.
Now leading 3-2, the Raiders pushed across four more runs in the fifth. Reed Smith drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a single by Christian Stekl and to third after a walk to Martin. Gaither came through with an RBI single off Garretson for a 4-2 lead and Harold drew a bases loaded walk for another run. De Boer completed the scoring with a two-run double, scoring both Martin and Gaither.
Cumberland put the first two runners on base in the bottom of the fifth inning off Northwestern starter Mitchell Kresnik but then the game was delayed more than three hours due to a storm coming through.
After the delay, Mena came in and retired the first two Cumberland batters before a two-run double by Mykel Gordon put the score at 7-4.
Mena pitched well in relief, giving up three hits and four runs in four innings. Kresnik went the first four innings, allowing four hits and four runs with three strikeouts.
Martin led the Red Raiders at the plate, going 3-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored in his final game. Gaither added a pair of hits and two runs score while Stekl, Callahan, De Boer and Zach Rosson all had one hit each.
Garretson earned the win for Cumberland, giving up four hits and one run over the final 4.2 innings. He walked one and struck out nine. Gordon went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and Hunt added a pair of hits and four RBIs to lead the Phoenix offense.
This is the final game for the 14 seniors involved with the Red Raider program: Reed Smith, Christian Stekl, Michael Callahan, Matt Martin, Dustin Gaither, Mitchell Kresnik, Victor Mena, Nick Stimson, David Rowley, Tanner Ortlund, Robby Laughlin, John Wawro, Raphael DeHoyos and Ryan Penny.