The Hornets beat host Embry-Riddle 8-0 in a winner-take-all game of the NAIA opening round and clinched one of 10 berths into the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
Southern Poly (45-17) will now have a week to prepare before beginning what will be the program’s final games. The Hornets athletic department is being shut down in advance of the university’s merger with Kennesaw State.
“I think we’ve had an edge all year just by the fact of the consolidation,” Southern Poly coach Marty Lovrich said in a university release. “I think that really inspired our kids all year. It was a motivational thing in that I think they wanted to finish this thing properly.”
Southern Poly will be returning to Lewiston for the first time since reaching the World Series in 2009, and it has Matt Miller to thank for it.
The junior left-hander went the distance, holding Embry-Riddle (40-21) to three hits and a walk on just 88 pitches. Miller (7-4) only threw three strikeouts, instead recording the majority of his outs on contact.
“The key was obviously Matt Miller,” Lovrich said. “Going into it and after watching him play several times, we knew he would go at them and make them swing the bat with not many walks or freebies.”
Miller’s counterpart, former Marietta High School standout Stetson Nelson, had an equally effective start before running into trouble in the sixth inning.
After allowing only three baserunners to reach base through five innings, Nelson walked Tremayne Hardin to lead off the sixth. Hardin then stole second and advanced to third on Dalton Martinez’s single.
After striking out Khirus Ware, Nelson threw a wild pitch that allowed Hardin to score, but he got out of the inning without any further damage.
Ronnie Lozada took over for the Eagles in the seventh and struggled from the outset, allowing Chris Dykes to connect for a leadoff home run. Consecutive singles for Miller and Sam Eure followed before another reliever, David Lidyard, took the mound.
After Darius Reese reached on a bunt single to load the bases with no outs, Chad Livingston’s sacrifice fly scored Blake Barrow, who was running for Miller. Martinez then hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Michael Maiocco, who was running for Eure.
Southern Poly continued the onslaught with four more runs in the eighth.
Dykes and Miller led off with consecutive doubles, the second of which scored Dykes. After Eure and pinch-hitter Troy Herterick drew consecutive walks to load the bases, Embry-Riddle’s Tyler Cyr fanned Hardin for the inning’s first out, only to throw a wild pitch that allowed Maiocco, back in for Eure, to score.
Ware then provided the final runs for Southern Poly, with his single scoring Barrow — in for Miller — and Herterick.
In all, the Hornets had 13 hits, with Miller and Dykes each contributing three and Ware two. Dykes was a triple away from hitting for the cycle.
“It seems like just about every big game we’ve had this year, we’ve had to use our whole bench just to win a game,” Lovrich said. “If you go back and look at this game, I think I only had one or two position players left. It was just a total team effort.”
Nelson (9-3) went six innings, giving up five hits and two walks while striking out three. In his second season at Embry-Riddle after beginning his career at Winthrop, Nelson finished the season with a 2.25 ERA and 68 strikeouts, and he was the Eagles’ co-leader in wins.