With their backs against the wall, the chips pushed to the center of the table, and their playoff lives at stake, the Oaks came through swimmingly in Menlo's greatest day of baseball in the program's history. Facing elimination not once, but twice, the Oaks won two unbelievable playoff games to force a final championship tilt tomorrow against College of Idaho in the 2012 NAIA West Playoff Tournament. Menlo won 6-5 in 13 innings in the opener against Concordia University, and then behind the brilliance of junior starting pitcher James Jensen, the Oaks stamped their ticket in the championship finale with a 1-0 win against #1 seeded College of Idaho.
"I am just so excited," said Jensen moments after pitching the game of his life, going the distance and blanking the tournament's top offensive team in the Day 3 finale. "Everyone played really well, we all came together and it was a full team effort. I couldn't have done it without the great plays by all our defenders, Ty [Finley] called a great game, everything was working and it just feels really good right now."
One of those great plays that Jensen spoke of came in the bottom of the 4th inning with the score deadlocked at zero. The Coyotes Jeffrey Harris led off the frame with a drive over Mickey Phelps's head in center, but the speedy center fielder quickly corralled it, fired a strike to C.J. Dailey who then whirled around and threw a seed to Michael Brandi at third. Harris would go on to over slide the bag and thanks to a great tag by Brandi, College of Idaho's potential rally was wiped away.
The score stayed knotted up at zero until the top half of the 8th inning when the Oaks finally broke through. Ty Finley led off the frame against Coyotes' starting pitcher Taylor Nicholson and put together an at bat for the ages. Finley worked the count full, fouled off a few tough pitches, and lined a single into left to put the potential go-ahead run at first base.
Finley was lifted for the courtesy runner Taylor Cohn as Mickey Phelps stepped to the dish. A bunt single by Phelps and a sacrifice bunt by James Threw put runners on second and third with only one down. Collin Forgey officially broke the scoreless tie with a sacrifice fly to left, plating Cohn to give Menlo a 1-0 lead.
Jensen took it from there with two scoreless innings to secure a spot in the do-or-die championship game on Saturday. Nicholson was the tough luck loser despite striking out 11 Oaks.
"He was flat out awesome," commented first year Head Coach Stefan McGovern on Jensen's unbelievable showing. "He did what he did all year long and today he kept us in the game and kept us in the tournament."
The Jensen performance capped off a day that will not soon be forgotten, after Menlo came away with a heart stopping 6-5 extra inning victory in the opening game against Concordia University.
Behind a stellar start by the Oaks' Derek Rodrigues, Menlo took a 4-0 lead into the 8th inning. The sophomore from Monte Sereno retired 12 straight from the 4th to the 8th as he gave the Oaks a chance to win.
However in the top of the 8th the Cavaliers struck for three with a two-run pinch hit triple by Jared Young and a two-out RBI single by Jordan Keeker. Menlo would tack on an insurance run in the bottom of the inning, but Concordia was not about to have their season come to a close trailing 5-3 heading in the top of the 9th.
Rodrigues took the hill in the 9th looking for the complete game performance but ran into trouble after giving up a leadoff single to first baseman Sean Myrom. Out came Oaks Head Coach Stefan McGovern who took the ball from Rodrigues in favor of Sean Sweeney. Sweeney retired the first two hitters he faced on groundouts, but with a wild pitch mixed in there Concordia plated a run to cut the deficit to 5-4.
Then with two out and the bases empty, Sweeney butted heads with Carl Beckert who represented the Cavaliers final chance at keeping their season alive. Sweeney jumped ahead to a 1-2 count but Beckert continued to battle with three straight foul balls to keep hope alive. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat Beckert roped one into right for a two-out double, putting the potential tying run in scoring position.
Up stood sophomore catcher Ben Talbot who lined a 2-1 pitch up the middle to bring around Beckert with the tying run. The Cavaliers completed the comeback to send the game into extra innings with the score knotted up at 5-5.
Sweeney would go on to pitch a scoreless 10th and freshman reliever Alex Tenorio tossed a scoreless 11th, 12th, and 13th as neither team could plate a run.
Finally in the bottom of the 13th with Concordia's ace of the staff Larsen Kohler on for his fifth inning of work, Menlo put Aaron Suarez-Lopez on at second with two out. Pinch hitter James Threw came to the plate and lined a single into left field, and by the slimmest of margins Suarez-Lopez slid in safely to give the Oaks a win for the ages.
Tenorio with three shutout innings of one-hit baseball picked up the win, while Kohler was saddled with the loss.
The ninth and final game of the 2012 NAIA West Playoff Tournament is set to begin at 3:30pm as the Oaks and Coyotes will square off for the third time in the tournament. The winner will advance to the regional round while the losers' season will come to a screeching halt.
|Concordia University vs||7|
|NAIA West Championships - Finals|
|Concordia University vs||(10)||4|
|NAIA West Championships - Finals|
|Concordia University vs||2|
|NAIA West Championships Second Round @ Concordia University|
|University of British Columbia vs||0|
|NAIA West Championships Elimination Game|
|Corban University vs||(12)||5|
|NAIA West Championships First Round @ Concordia University|
|College of Idaho at||4|
|College of Idaho at||0|
|College of Idaho at||4|
|College of Idaho at||(12)||6|
|William Jessup University||8|
|William Jessup University||2|
|(3) CSU San Marcos at||(8)||2|
|(3) CSU San Marcos at||2|
|(RV) Simpson University||8|
|(RV) Simpson University||10|