LEWISTON, Idaho - Union College made its presence felt at the 2008 Avista-NAIA World Series as the fifth-seeded Bulldogs notched a 9-8 victory over No. 4 seed Azusa Pacific (Calif.) University Friday.
In its first-ever appearance in the NAIA World Series, Union (48-16 overall) held off the Azusa Pacific (45-11 overall) to pull out the one-run victory to advance in the winners' bracket. Union will next face the winner of the game between top-seeded Lee (Tenn.) University and No. 8 Bellevue Monday at 6 p.m. Eastern. Lee and Bellevue square off Saturday at 10 p.m. Eastern.
Azusa Pacific drops to the losers' bracket to take on No. 9 Ohio Dominican Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern.
Senior Justin Hart (Lake Mary, Fla.) had a big game as he went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and was a triple shy of the cycle. With the three runs knocked in, Hart became the program's all-time RBI leader as he now has 179 in his career, surpassing Tim Moore's mark of 178.
Sophomore Trey Wheeler (Hopkinsville, Ky.) also knocked the cover of the game in going 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
Union never trailed, but the game turned into a nail-biter in the ninth inning.
Trailing 9-6, Azusa Pacific had two runners on with two out when Derrick Keeton lined a single to left to drive both runners, slicing the margin to 9-8. However, senior Marcus White (Lubbock, Texas) got Drew Evans to strike out looking to end the game, giving Union the 9-8 victory.
White collected his first save of the year, going 1 1/3 innings and surrendering two runs on two hits and no walks with three strikeouts.
Junior Marty Popham (Louisville, Ky.) got the victory as he went 7 2/3 innings, allowing six runs - five earned, on eight hits and five walks with nine strikeouts. Popham is now 17-1 on the year. He is two wins short of tying the NAIA record, which is held by former Major League pitcher Dan Quisenberry who set the mark in 1975 at La Verne (Calif.).
Union struck first, pushing two runs across without the benefit of a hit and only putting the ball in play once. With one out, Lioney Henriquez (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Joe Grinstead (Bowling Green, Ky.) drew back-to-back walks before advancing up a base thanks to throwing error on Azusa Pacific starting pitcher Andrew Shive. Then, a passed ball allowed Henriquez to score the game's first run with Grinstead moving over to third.
Two batters later, Josh Ehringer (Somerset, Ky.) walked to put runners on the corner. A Shive wild pitch sent Grinstead home, putting Union up 2-0.
Azusa Pacific cracked the scoring column in the top of the third as it loaded the bases with one out. Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit into a fielder's choice to first baseman Wheeler, allowing a run to score and cutting the margin to 2-1. Union got out of the jam as Stephen Kohatsu bounced a fielder's choice to Grinstead at short.
Union upped the margin to 4-1 in the third as Hart belted a two-run home run. The four-bagger was Hart's ninth of the season.
In the fourth, Union extended the lead as Kenny Kysar (Corbin, Ky.) reached on a two-out, infield single to knock in Wheeler for a 5-1 advantage.
Azusa Pacific scratched out a run in the fifth as Matt Venegas roped a run-scoring single to left field to make it 5-2. Two batters later, Nieuwenhuis lined a triple down the right-field line and scored on a throwing error as Henriquez tried to throw him out at third, to make it a 5-4 contest. Kohatus then evened the score with a solo shot over the right-center field wall.
Union put together another two-out rally as Wheeler sent a two-run double to right-field wall to reclaim at two-run lead at 7-5.
In the sixth, Union stretched the lead to 8-5 when Grinstead lined a double down the right-field line to score Kysar. Hart followed with a bloop double to knock in another run for a 9-5 advantage.
Azusa Pacific rallied for a two-out run in the eighth when Venegas reached on an error, allowing Drew Evans to score easily from second to cut it to 9-6 and set up the exciting ninth inning.
Ryan Dowell had a solid outing at the plate for Azusa Pacific, going 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Venegas was 2-for-4 with a RBI.
Reliever Christian Gagne suffered the loss as he gave up two runs on two hits and one walk with one strikeout in two-thirds innings of work.
The 48 wins ties a program record for most wins in a season. Union went 48-14 in 2006.
Union stole three bases in the victory, giving it a school-record 200 swipes this year. The previous mark was set last season at 197.
Marty Popham has recorded a decision in all 18 games he has appeared in this season.