Greeneville, TN – The seventh seeded Delta Pioneers made their first College World Series appearance a forgettable one as they got thumped by #2 nationally ranked and second seeded Niagara, 15-3 in a mercy shortened five inning game. Delta will now play in an elimination game on Sunday afternoon against Prince George's Community College out of Maryland at 12:30 on the campus of Tusculum College, home of the NJCAA Division III World Series.
"I know it sounds cliché but the game was much, much closer than the final score," said Delta head Coach and District B Coach of the Year Danny Smith. "We don't make that error in the third and this thing gets interesting – especially after the rain delays."
Niagara got on the board in the top of the first, scoring two runs off starting pitcher Justin Jurek. After back-to-back singles and a balk put runners at second and third, Jurek got a pop out before a sharp single to left made it 2-0.
The Pioneers responded in the bottom of the first, however, scoring two runs of their own against the Thunder Wolves ace pitcher and Oakland Athletics draft pick Christian Young. Zack Booth led off the inning with a single to right field before Hunter David's sacrifice bunt was thrown in to right field, allowing Booth to advance all the way home to make it a 2-1 game. Z Westley then singled home David to tie the game at 2-2. It was just the ninth earned run scored off of Young all season.
Neither team would score in the second inning but that would change as Niagara plated three runs in the top of the third – none of them earned. A pop out and a one-out single got things going for the Thunder Wolves but a line out to second base made it two outs and likely three with a good throw to double the runner off of first. But the throw went high and into the Delta dugout, putting a runner at second with two outs. A double, two singles and a hit batter ensued before the inning was over and Niagara now led, 5-2.
After Young threw another zero on the board for Niagara, the score remained 5-2 heading in to the top of the fourth where Jurek struck out the first batter of the inning. However, when the ball escaped on strike three, Niagara had a lead runner on with no outs.
"Another example, right there, of a small break that opened the flood gates," said Smith of the dropped third strike. "One out nobody on against the number two team in the country is much more manageable than the alternative."
A bunt single and a walk ended the day for Jurek, who had thrown 99 pitches through three complete innings at that point. He was replaced by Thomas Fortney who gave up a single to score two runs before an error allowed the third run to score and put a runner at second with no outs and the score now, 8-2. Fortney would then get a fly out before hitting a batter to put runners at first and second.
An error on a double play ball extended the inning for Niagara, however, and make the score 13-2 before the game was called due to lightening and rain.
"You take the three errors out of the first four innings and it's a 3-2 game when the lightening delay hits," said Smith. "Now, we come back Sunday morning and Young is no longer on the hill for them. I like our chances much better at that point."
Delta was never able to mount much of a threat as the game resumed in the fourth inning, down 15-2. They would plate a run for the 15-3 final.
When asked whether his team played tight and perhaps nerves led to their demise, Smith responded with a resounding, "No."
"Playing against Schoolcraft and Elgin to get here is nerve-wracking. Once you're here, it's all icing on the cake. Nerves had nothing to do with it.
"It goes back to doing things fundamentally sound – the things we work on starting in fall ball. You buy in to it and do it the way we ask or you make mistakes on a national stage. It's that simple."