Faulkner Baseball tops Missouri Baptist 2-0 in NAIA World Series - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Faulkner Baseball tops Missouri Baptist 2-0 in NAIA World Series

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As he rounded first and realized his two-run single in the seventh inning had broken a scoreless tie against Missouri Baptist in the Avista-NAIA World Series here Saturday afternoon, Faulkner's Zak Colby, with tears in his eyes, looked to the sky and pointed. He was acknowledging his late grandfather who, the way the Eagles' catcher sees it, had the best seat in the house.

When Frank Shiba died on May 10, one day into Faulkner's Opening Round tournament, Colby lost one of his closest family members and biggest supporters. Wearing along with most of his teammates the initials "FS" on his wrist tape, the senior from Hanford, Calif., stroked a two-out single up the middle to plate the game's only runs in the Eagles' 2-0 victory over the Spartans.

"I miss him so much," Colby said after the game, trying unsuccessfully to fight back tears. "This has been a really tough time for my family, but I couldn't ask for a better band of brothers than my teammates. They started doing the "RS" thing without even telling me. I couldn't believe it when I first saw it back in the Opening Round. It's continued here. It meant so much to me to get that hit, for him and my family."

Top-ranked Faulkner (52-11), the tournament's top seed, plays The Masters (Calif.), ranked seventh in the last NAIA poll and seeded fourth, Monday afternoon at 3 central in a winners' bracket game at Harris Field. The double-elimination tournament started with 10 teams, but Sterling (Kan.) and York (Neb.) have already been eliminated.

The Eagles struggled to get into the flow of the game both offensively and defensively, having amassed only three hits and having committed three errors through six innings against the 20th-ranked Spartans (36-13), the regular season champions of the American Midwest Conference. Faulkner starter Johnny Shuttlesworth (15-1) kept Missouri Baptist at bay until the bats could come alive, allowing only five hits in seven innings of work.

Just like Shuttlesworth, Missouri Baptist starter Julien Soucy (5-3) was exceptional, and retired the first two batters he faced in the fateful seventh. Cayleb Coker started the two-out rally with a single, and Esteban Paula followed with a walk. After Coker was replaced at second by pinch-runner Xavier Cunningham, Antonio Kendrick coaxed his second hit of the game, laying down a perfect bunt to load the bases. It brought up Colby, who blistered Soucy's second pitch into center field for the game-decider, allowing his personal and emotional celebration on the first-base bag.

"You just have to find a way to win out here, and our guys did just that," said Faulkner head coach Patrick McCarthy, whose Eagles lost twice in their first visit to the World Series two years ago. "Pitching is key, and we got great pitching today. We may not have played our best, but we scratched it out and I'm proud of our team for getting it done."

Shuttlesworth was relieved with one on and no outs in the top of the eighth by left-handed closer LaBradford Griffis, who pitched around another Spartan hit by getting two infield pop ups after a fielders' choice to end the inning. Griffis then slammed the door shut in the ninth, striking out the side to end it. The outcome may have been different had it not been for a couple of defensive gems by Kendrick, and a run-saving stop by Griffis. In the third, with two runners on and two outs, Missouri Baptist's Garrett Vail hit hard liner that appeared to be sailing over the head of Kendrick in centerfield, but the fleet-footed Forrest Park, Ga., native turned and sprinted to wall, where he made the catch on the warning track.

"I've been here four years, and that's one of the first things we practice - playing shallow and racing back to catch up to a ball hit over our head," said Kendrick, who didn't know he was going to start in place of the injured Brook Boudreaux until right before the game. "I had to take my off the ball and run as fast as I could and then find the ball again, because I felt if I had turned to run with my eyes still following the ball I wouldn't have caught it."

In the seventh, Kendrick was at it again. Joe Stropp opened the inning with a single for the Spartans, and when Shuttlesworth threw Dan Harper's sacrifice bunt attempt into center field, Kendrick charged the errant throw and tossed a strike to third baseman Sergio Sanchez, who tagged out Stropp for the first out of the inning. A ground ball to shortstop Dauris Holguin resulted in a tailor-made double play, ending the Missouri Baptist threat and setting the stage for the Eagles' rally in the bottom half of the inning. After Faulkner took the lead, the Spartans threatened again in the eighth. With one on and one out, second baseman Pier Olivier-Dostaler singled to center, and Kendrick's attempt to throw out the lead runner at third was off-line and headed for the Faulkner dugout. Backing up the play, Griffis was somehow able to flip his glove hand at the ball just before it made it to the dead-ball area, saving at least a run.

"What a great script, with the guy who has been here the longest in Kendrick, not even knowing if he was going to play, making the big plays to help us win it," McCarthy said. "And Griffis doing what he's supposed to do after giving up a hit was incredible too. Those guys both made game-saving plays."

Faulkner designated hitter Michael Cruz joined Kendrick with two hits in the game, while Stropp had a pair of singles for Missouri Baptist. The Spartans, who beat Sterling 8-3 Friday morning in their first game of the tournament, will try to stay alive Monday morning when they face Rogers State (Okla.) at 11 central time.

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