TWICE AS NICE

Tabor advances to NAIA World Series for second consecutive year

Russell Longworth raises both hands in victory atop the celebratory dog-pile after Tabor defeated Bellevue to win the NAIA Opening Round tournament in Bellevue Friday. Longworth was the winning pitcher in Tabor?s 9-4 victory, despite coming in on short rest. The win punched the Bluejays? ticket to the NAIA World Series for the second consecutive year. Tabor will play Embry-Riddle (Fla.) Friday at 3 p.m. PDT. Janae Rempel / Free Press

The Bluejays rushed out of the Tabor College dugout.

Closer Greg Turner had just secured the final two outs by double play in Tabor?s 9-4 victory over host Bellevue (Neb.) Friday in the second championship game of the NAIA Opening Round tournament. The blue-clad Bluejays converged near the mound to celebrate their second consecutive ticket to the NAIA World Series in traditional dog-pile fashion.

The first and second seeds in the tournament, Tabor and Bellevue had met three times in as many days. The Bluejays lost a 3-1 contest to the Bruins Wednesday but battled back to face Bellevue a second time Thursday.

A Bellevue win would have given the Bruins the championship, but Tabor willed its way to an 11-5 win in a rain-delayed game that concluded after midnight. The victory forced Friday?s matchup, which also turned into a drawn-out affair. It took nearly five hours from first pitch to final out when a rain delay paused play for two-and-a-half hours.

As the pile of humanity in the infield grew, starting pitcher Russell Longworth circled the celebrating Bluejays with arms stretched wide before leaping atop the pile with both hands uplifted, the fingers on each hand forming the number one.

Longworth shone on the mound Friday in his second appearance of the tournament, having gotten the start despite pitching a complete-game shutout just three days prior.

Even on short rest, Longworth went seven innings to earn the win, improving his record to 11-3. The left-hander scattered seven hits and four runs (three earned) during his time on the mound. He walked just one batter and struck out seven Bruins before Turner relieved him in the bottom of the eighth.

?Coming back from a short rest, my body?s sore,? Longworth said. ?Mentally, I?m not exactly into it, but when we lost that game (to Bellevue), I knew it would come down to someone?s going to have to make a second start, and (with)?me starting the first game, I thought I was the right person to do it. I had only thrown 96 pitches, and I felt like I could give my team a great chance to win.?

Longworth set the tone from the start by striking out the side in the bottom half of a scoreless first inning.

Offensively, the Bluejays plated run support early, working to load the bases with one out in the top of the second inning. As light rain began to fall, Tanner Bell stepped to the plate and launched a grand slam off Bruin starter Braulio Torres-Perez on a full count, giving Tabor a 4-0 lead.

?That made my job a lot easier,??Longworth said. ?With me being more sore, it made it even easier to come out there, throw strikes, get ahead of the count and let my team do the defense they?ve been doing all year.?

Tanner Bell (center)?and teammates celebrate Bell?s second-inning grand slam that gave Tabor a 4-0 lead over Bellevue Friday. Tabor went on to win, 9-4, to earn a ticket to the NAIA World Series for the second consecutive year.  Janae Rempel / Free PressThe Bruins led off a three-run third inning with back-to-back singles and scored thanks to a two-RBI base hit and a sacrifice fly, closing the gap to 4-3.

Michael Baca keyed a five-run fourth inning with a one-out three-RBI triple that ended Torres-Perez?s outing after 76 pitches. At the end of the inning, Tabor led, 9-3.

With two on and two out in the bottom of the fourth inning, the game entered the lightning delay.

Coach Mark Standiford said he was concerned about the effect the delay would have on his starting pitcher.

?I was a little concerned about Russ, but Russ is the type of guy that changes speeds very well,? he said. ?(He) throws a lot of strikes, and doesn?t try to overpower anybody. He just pitches. He?s a true pitcher, and by doing that, it didn?t affect him as much.

?He?s a senior. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew what we were playing for, so he wanted the ball and he kept it.?

After the delay, Longworth promptly ended the inning with a line out to the pitcher?s mound. Bellevue scored its fourth and final run in the seventh inning.

In the final two innings, Turner gave up just one hit, walked no one and struck out two. With runners on first and second in the final half-inning, Turner drew a grounder. Baca fielded the ball and threw to Baez at second, who threw to Colton Flax at first to turn the game-winning double play.

Baca was 3-for-5 at-bat and had three RBIs. Bell had four RBIs on 1-for-3 hitting.

Standiford praised his team for battling through adversity.

?Guys are dead tired, but they knew what we were playing for, and I think that kept them motivated,? he said. ?That?s a goal we set out day one, and to have it right there in front of you, they weren?t going to let being tired keep them from doing it. Very proud of them.

?I cannot say enough about Russell Longworth, obviously. Coming back on two day?s rest, just unbelievable what he was able to do on the mound. We had some guys step up at the plate with some key hits early, which relaxed everybody.?

Tabor played without starting centerfielder Jerrik Sigg a majority of the tournament.

?He has a calf injury and a lower-back injury, so we haven?t played him,? Standiford said. ?He played a little bit, but he was 50 percent at best. Hopefully we can get him back for the World Series. We need him.?

Tabor 11, Bellevue 5

Game 4 1st Championship, Thursday

With a ?win or go home? reality, Tabor?s bats came out swinging early, as the first seven Bluejay batters recorded a hit to get to Bruin starter Sean McManus after just 26 pitches.

Relief pitcher Tony Monroy inherited the bases loaded with no outs with Tabor holding a 4-0 lead. A fielder?s choice plated Tabor?s fifth run off the bat of Tanner Bell.

The Bluejays scored once in the third to take a 6-0 lead.

The Bruins, meanwhile, relied on the long ball to score their runs. Osvaldo Gonzalez led off the bottom of the fourth inning with a one-run shot off starter Jean Acevedo, and the Bruins scored again in the seventh on Kevin Rodriguez?s two-run blast. The Bruins left the bases loaded in that inning, but Acevedo escaped with a ground out.

Todd Nicks roughed up Acevedo for a one-out, two-run homer in the eighth, which closed the gap to 7-5. Michael Ebersole was called in to pitch, but two batters and two hits later, David Renteria relieved him. The Bruins loaded the bases, but Renteria escaped with a line out.

Holding a two-run lead heading into the final inning, Tabor scored four insurance runs. Bell led off with a double and Tabor loaded the bases to force a pitching change. Matthew Molbury highlighted the frame by launching a two-run single off Marcco Lovato.

The Bruins put runners on the corners in the final half-inning, but Renteria gained the final out by strikeout.

Alex Couch was 3-for-5. DeLeon was 2-for-3 and had two RBIs. Molbury had three RBIs.

Acevedo (10-1) earned the pitching win, scattering 6 hits and 5 runs (all earned) over 71?3 innings of work while walking four batters and striking out six.

?You know what you?re going to get with Jean,? Standiford said. ?You?re going to get a great game. He?s going to compete every time out.?

Tabor 12, Mayville State 4

Game 3 Consolation Semis, Thursday

For the second time in three days, Tabor defeated Mayville State by an eight-run margin.

Tabor got five shutout innings from starter Gregory Turner (5-2) who picked up the win, scattering three hits and one walk with no strikeouts during his time on the mound.

Turner set the tone with a 1-2-3 inning to start the game, then the Bluejay offense scored its first run off two hits and an error in the bottom half of the inning.

Tabor took command with a seven-run second inning, ending starter Matthew Tomblin?s outing after just 28 pitches.

Armando Castillo blistered him for a leadoff double, and after Jean Acevedo reached base on an error, Colton Flax and Brent McClure hit back-to-back RBI singles to end Tomblin?s work for the day. In one inning, he gave up five hits and five runs (three earned), while walking no one and striking out one batter. He took the pitching loss.

But the Bluejays weren?t done.

Alex Couch coaxed a bases-loaded walk off reliever Josh Janzen, then Matthew Molbury drove in a pair of runs with a single. By the time Manny DeLeon hit an RBI single and Castillo walked, the bases were loaded a second time, prompting another Comet pitching change. Acevedo drew a bases-loaded walk before reliever Eric Benson ended the inning with Tabor in front, 8-0.

Tabor scored once in the third and added a 10th run in the fourth.

Mayville State got on the board in the seventh with a one-out, three-run home run off reliever Dylan Algra.

The Bluejays used three hits to score twice more in the eighth before Mayville State hit three consecutive singles off closer Thomas Longworth in the top of the ninth to load the bases with no outs. A Bluejay error allowed one run to score before Longworth escaped the jam.

Flax was 3-for-5 at-bat and had three RBIs. Baca, Couch and Castillo were each 2-for-3. Couch also had three RBIs.

?We traditionally start very well as a team,? Standiford said. ?We got some momentum going, and the bats really woke up.?

Bellevue 3, Tabor 1

Game 2 Semifinals, Wednesday

Tabor struggled to plate run support for starter Dustin Hurlbutt in a 3-1 loss to the host team Wednesday.

In just his second loss of the year, Hurlbutt (10-2) scattered four hits and two earned runs over nine innings. He walked three batters and struck out 10 and pitched five three up, three down innings.

Hurlbutt battled Stephan Meyer (11-2), who gave up five hits and one earned run over nine innings while walking four batters and striking out five.

?We had a couple situations that kind of ran ourselves out,? coach Mark Standiford said. ?We need to capitalize on those situations on a guy like (Meyer) in order for us to be successful. Dustin was dominant, but we just couldn?t get that key hit.?

After a scoreless first inning, Bellevue?s Gabriel De La Rosa launched the first pitch he saw for a home run to key a two-run second inning that also included a one-out RBI single.

In the bottom of the third inning, Tanner Bell hit a leadoff single?the Bluejays? first hit of the game?and Michael Baca roughed up Meyer for an RBI double, which narrowed the gap to 2-1. Gadiel Baez was hit by a pitch, but the Bruin defense gained its first out when Baca was caught stealing. Jerrik Sigg coaxed a one-out walk off Meyer, and Alex Couch singled, but Baez was thrown out at home attempting to score. A ground out ended the inning with Tabor stranding two on base.

The Bruins scored their final run in the fifth inning on a two-out RBI single.

Both starters gave up just one hit in the four scoreless innings that followed.

Baca, Couch, DeLeon, Jean Acevedo and Bell each had one hit for Tabor.

Tabor 8, Mayville State 0

Game 1, Tuesday

Russell Longworth pitched a complete-game shutout in Tabor?s first appearance in the NAIA Opening Round tournament in Bellevue (Neb.).

Longworth scattered five hits over nine innings, striking out nine batters and walking no one.

Michael Baca led off the first inning with a double, and Alex Couch drove in Tabor?s first run with a two-out RBI double. Manny DeLeon continued the hitting with a one-run single to give the Bluejays a 2-0 lead by the end of the frame.

Four scoreless innings followed before Tabor plated two more runs in the sixth. Couch hit a leadoff single, DeLeon coaxed a walk off Comet starter Aaron Dick, and Matthew Molbury hit a single to load the bases for Jean Acevedo, who drove in both runs with a single.

Tabor scored once in the seventh when Gadiel Baez led off with a single and later scored on a passed ball, and the Bluejays polished the victory by scoring three more runs in the ninth.

Couch was 4-for-4 at-bat and had one RBI. DeLeon and Acevedo each had two RBIs.

?It?s always important to win that first game,? coach Mark Standiford said. ?(Russ) commanded the zone. It was a quick game. To come out and swing the bat?because we hadn?t played for awhile?I was very happy with that.?

Coming?Tabor (53-10) has received the No. 3 seed in the 2015 Avista-NAIA World Series hosted by Lewis-Clark State at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho, May 22-29.

The Bluejays will face No. 6 Embry-Riddle (Fla.) (39-17) Friday at 3 p.m. PDT in the double elimination bracket.

With a win, Tabor would play again Monday at 3 p.m. All times are PDT.

?I?m very proud of them,? coach Mark Standiford said. ?To go back-to-back World Series?that?s our goal, but it?s still very difficult to do.?

Additional pairings include No. 8 Concordia (Calif.) (47-16) and No. 9 St. Thomas (Fla.) (44-16), the winner of which will face No. 1 Oklahoma Baptist (52-6); No. 4 Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) (41-11) versus No. 5 Davenport (Mich.)?(51-10); and No. 7 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.)?(41-17) versus No. 10 Vanguard (Calif.)?(38-20), the winner of which will face No. 2 Faulkner (Ala.) (48-13).

Visit hillsborofreepress.com for updates or follow Janae on Twitter @janaerem13.

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