May 27, 2013

By Mason Nesbitt, TMC Sports Information Intern

LEWISTON, IDAHO—It’s hard to get excited about sitting down to write something you wish wasn’t true.

But it is true; our season's over.

In twenty-four hours, we lost two games in about the most heart wrenching fashion I can imagine.

Monday we fought back from a 7-0 deficit only to leave the tying run at first base in the ninth.  Tuesday we lost on a walk-off single after leading 2-0 with only three outs to get.

Those are the kind of games we’ve won all season, leaving the opposing team’s dugout silent.  But Tuesday it was our dugout left at a loss for words.

We didn’t know it at the time, but we took our last van ride to Harris Field Tuesday morning and warmed up for the last time.

We arrived early enough to watch the grounds crew put the finishing touches on Harris Field.  Everything was to perfection; the grass cut short, the lines chalked and the mound groomed.

Then they arrived, the fabled Lewis-Clark State Warriors—no longer just a name on paper, but hats, jerseys and spikes in the first base dugout.

In my mind, they’re the face of NAIA baseball, because they host the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics World Series every year and they’ve won it 16 times (two things that are probably connected).

I’d heard about them when I first arrived at TMC four years ago—and there they were 100 ft. away.

It’s hard to tell them apart at first—a lot of tall strong builds, wearing mandatory stirrups, matching black cleats and no batting gloves.  Another thing many of them have in common is a high batting average (11 guys over .300, two over .400).

But our starting pitcher James Scott was up for the task.

James was his usual stoic self before the game; our pitching coach Sam Minyard said once that James’ face would look the same whether he hit a home run or struck out.  Personally, I’d like to see his face if he ever won the lottery or when he has his first kid.

That said, even James had plenty to smile about for eight innings Tuesday; he was excellent.  With our season on the line, he recorded 24 outs—against a Warrior team hitting .336 on the season—without surrendering a run.

You have to score to win though, and we finally broke through for a run in the sixth before adding a little insurance in the eighth. Then a ninth inning we’d all like to forget.

But there’s a lot about this season we don’t want to forget.

This team has accomplished so much: a school record 44 wins, the school’s first Golden State Athletic Conference title since 2003, the school’s first GSAC tournament title and only its second World Series appearance—not to mention garnering the GSAC player, pitcher and coach of the year awards.

It’d be hard to narrow the season’s highlights to a list of ten.

But the 7-6 win over Concordia in 13 innings would be on there.  It’d be hard to argue that wasn’t the turning point in what had been a disappointing start to the year.  Brett Piper’s grand slam in the GSAC tournament championship would be near the top; so would James Scott’s game-tying three-run homer a week later.

Any number of A.J. Work’s pitching gems would make the cut, along with a number of great outings from a deep pitching staff.

Steven Karkenny couldn’t be left out.  Not necessarily for a specific moment, but we’d have never seen Lewiston without him.

There’d be too many beautiful defensive plays to put on the list individually, so we’d have to consolidate them.

And Coach Brooks making lunch ladies laugh with a Bill Cosby sketch during our elementary school visit last week might even sneak in there.

There were the comeback wins, the celebratory Martinelli showers and who could forget the free t-shirts.

But the team’s resiliency might be at the top of the list; they never gave up, never thought they were out of it and never stopped pursuing their goal.

And that’s something—national championship or not—that will be hard to forget.