CARY, N.C. — A bases-loaded walk in the top of the 12th inning proved to be the tie-breaker in what turned out to be one of the better NCAA Division II baseball championship games of all-time.
Senior infielder Matt Bowles drew a one-out walk to push across the go-ahead run and the Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles outlasted Colorado Mesa 3-2 to capture their second national championship in program history and its first since 2010.
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|How they got here: Regional Results|
Junior shortstop/pitcher Matt Chavarria, who came in to begin the ninth inning, pitched four scoreless innings as the Eagles defeated the Mavericks in a championship game that tied the record as the longest NCAA Division II title game.
Chavarria, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, gave USI a 1-0 lead with an RBI-double in the top of the first inning.
Colorado Mesa (47-13), however, capitalized on a pair of USI errors in the last half of the third inning as it plated two runs to grab a 2-1 advantage.
Junior hurler Ben Wright, though, kept the Eagles in the game as he blanked the Mavericks throughout the next five innings. Wright surrendered just two unearned runs off five hits in eight innings.
His work was rewarded in the top of the eighth as USI took advantage of a lead-off walk and an error to tie the contest at 2-2.
After hard-luck double-plays in the fifth and sixth frames took away promising scoring opportunities, the Eagles caught a break as sophomore outfielder Kyle Kempf walked and sophomore first baseman Andrew Cope was hit by a pitch to begin the eighth inning.
Chavarria followed with a bunt-single, but the throw from Colorado Mesa hurler Ryan Reno to get Chavarria out at first base sailed wide and allowed Kempf to scamper home for the tying run.
USI (49-13) just missed on a scoring chance in the top of the 11th inning as Kempf was called out on a close play at first base that would have resulted in an infield hit and the go-ahead a tally.
The Mavericks threatened in the bottom of the 11th as they came within a foot-and-a-half of winning the title. With the potential winning run racing home, senior infielder Caleb Eickhoff ranged over from his second base position to snare a ball that looked as if it was going to get between himself and Cope. Instead, Eickhoff fielded the ball and flipped it to Chavarria, who beat Colorado Mesa’s Sergio Valenzuela to the first-base bag by less than two steps.
Cope led the 12th inning off by getting hit by a pitch for the second time. He advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Chavarria; then made it to third base following and intentional walk to senior outfielder Bryce Shoulders and a single by sophomore catcher Ryan Bertram.
With nowhere to put a runner, Bowles took a 3-1 pitch high and outside to push Cope across the plate for the go-ahead run.
“I got up to the plate and I was going to find a way to get on base,” Bowles said on drawing the game-winning walk.
Colorado Mesa threatened in the bottom of the 12th as a lead-off walk and a sacrifice bunt put the tying run in scoring position with one out. A ground-out for the second out advanced the tying run to third base, but on a 1-2 pitch, Chavarria got Colorado Mesa’s Jordan Liester to pop up to senior infielder A.J. Dokey, who entered the game at second base to begin the bottom of the 12th, for the final out of the game.
“What a great game,” said USI head coach Tracy Archuleta, whose team defeated the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 ranked teams in the country to capture its second national title in five years. “I think everyone enjoyed it. I’m so proud of each and every one of our guys.”
Chavarria, who went 1-0 with two saves and a 0.00 ERA in the finals, earned the win after blanking the Mavericks in the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th frames. He struck out four batters, including two straight to get out of a jam in the 10th inning, while allowing three hits and three walks.
In addition to Chavarria, the Eagles were represented on the all-tournament team by Kempf, Wright and senior Brent Weinzapfel.
USI’s national championship is the third team title for USI, joining the 2010 USI baseball team and the 1995 USI men’s basketball team. In addition, the Eagles have captured seven individual national championships, including sophomore Johnnie Guy’s win in the 10,000 meters last week at the NCAA II Outdoor Track & Field Championships.