KINGSPORT – Kevin T. Greene tossed seven strong innings, Brady North belted a three-run homer and Richie Seaton added a two-run double and three RBIs as 23rd-ranked Cumberland came through the loser’s bracket to post a 6-3 win over No. 7 Missouri Baptist, earning the club’s 12th trip to the NAIA World Series next week in Lewiston, Idaho.
The Bulldogs (44-19) posted three straight victories after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Spartans (47-14) on Tuesday, defeating Bryan and then Missouri Baptist on Wednesday and MBU again on Thursday. A depleted CU pitching staff was nothing short of phenomenal, allowing just nine earned runs and a 1.84 earned-run-average in the five outings.
“I’m so proud of our team – unbelievable,” said 33-year coach Woody Hunt, still showing his excitement about an hour after the final pitch. “Our pitching staff, we had to patch things somewhat. Our pitching staff has really come on like gangbusters. They have pitched lights out.”
Greene, who missed almost a month with a broken bone in his hand, did everything the club could have asked for, allowing two runs on five hits in seven innings in his first appearance since April 8. The left-hander walked one and struck out six, getting out of a pair of jams in the middle innings with double plays.
Josciel Veras, playing with a badly injured knee, doubled in the fourth scored on Seaton’s two-out single to center, and after walks to Ricky Coleman and Veras in the fifth, North drilled his second three-run homer of the tournament and 11th of the year, staking the Bulldogs to a 4-0 advantage.
The Spartans got on the board with single runs in the sixth and seventh, but it could have been worse, with Jeff Smith bouncing into a 6-4-3 twin killing to end the seventh.
Cumberland added two huge insurance runs in the eighth, all with two outs. Justin Byrd and Tyler Anderson both singled to center and a wild pitch moved the runners up before Seaton drilled a double into left-center, stretching the lead to 6-2.
Missouri Baptist made it difficult in the ninth, with Orlando Olivera leading off with a double and Joe Stropp striking out, but the ball went through the legs of catcher Bryan Haney and runners were at first and third.
Eli Roundtree plated a run with a single to right-center before Brent Zimmerman’s line drive to center was the first out of the inning. Dan Harper dumped a single into short center, but Stropp did not score on the play, but it loaded the bases.
Jake Collier, who won the first game of the tournament for the Bulldogs, got a short fly ball from Smith and then struck out Eric Garcia to end the contest, sending gloves flying the beginning the celebration for Cumberland, which will make its 12th appearance in the Series and first since winning the 2010 national championship.
“We beat a good team today,” Hunt said. “They’re one of the best offensive teams we’ve seen in a couple of years.
“We had to fight. I give all the credit to the players. I just try to keep them focused and they did the rest… This is one of my proudest moments as a coach. That’s hard to say with all the accomplishments we’ve had, but I’m so proud.”
Collier earned his first save of the year and just the second for the club on the season, working two innings. He gave up one run on three hits and struck out three.
MBU starter Curtis Sawchuck (5-1) took the loss, allowing one run on two hits with four walks in four innings. Chris Cordova gave up North’s three-run homer in his two innings of work.
“Gritty, never quit and resilient,” Hunt said of the attributes of his team, who has to win the “If necessary” game to take the Mid-South Conference championship last week, win twice Wednesday and beat Missouri Baptist twice in the finals after losing to the Spartans on Tuesday.
The World Series will begin next Friday and run through May 30.