Arizona Christian shuts out Lewis-Clark State baseball in Opening Round

May 15—The Lewis-Clark State baseball team is facing a situation it isn't usually in this time of year: win or go home.

The Warriors were shut out by the Arizona Christian Firestorm 11-0 in a winner's bracket game in the NAIA Opening Round, presented by Avista, on Tuesday at Harris Field.

Nothing really went right for LCSC, but there was a whole lot that went right for Arizona Christian: a complete game, 12-strikeout showing from starting pitcher Adrian Santa Cruz, a two-RBI home run apiece from Marques Titialii and Trey Collins and 13 total hits as a team.

"(Santa Cruz) is a four-pitch guy and he was in complete command the entire time," LCSC coach Jake Taylor said. "We had two guys on in the first inning, got into a double play, and we didn't challenge a whole lot after that. Credit to (Santa Cruz) and credit to their team for showing up."

The Firestorm are in the driver's seat of the Lewiston Opening Round bracket. And the Warriors now have their backs, and their season, against the wall. They'll play British Columbia in an elimination game at 2:30 p.m. today at Harris Field. If LCSC wins that game, it'll have to play against Arizona Christian again at 6 p.m. today.

Here's how this situation came to be:

Arizona Christian brings the fire

Save from Santa Cruz's pitching masterclass, there wasn't a lot of action for the first couple of innings.

Then the bottom of the third happened.

The Firestorm (35-19) started to get the bats cracking with four hits in the inning. Three hits brought in runs, and Arizona Christian scored another two with a sacrifice fly and a ground-out RBI.

The score was 0-0 before the bottom of the third. When the fourth rolled around, the Firestorm led 5-0.

The Warriors (38-12) relieved starter Drake George during Arizona Christian's spurt. He was pulled after two innings pitched. That move wasn't the end of their pitching troubles.

The Firestorm worked through LCSC's second and third pitchers, Jace Hanson and Jantzen Lucas, during a stretch from the fourth-through-fifth innings when Arizona Christian scored seven more times.

When the sixth rolled around, the Firestorm already had the eventual final score of 11-0.

"I just think we're playing very disciplined baseball and doing it for each other, something bigger than the game," Arizona Christian coach Joe McDonald said. "Our guys have a vision. They know what it's going to take and it's not going to be easy but our job's not done yet."

The bottom of the fifth was when Tatialii and Collins hit their two-run shots. Tatialii's home run came against the Warriors' fourth (and final) hurler on the mound, Brennen Farber.

Tatialli's home run was his 23rd of the season. That long ball upped his record for most single-season home runs in Arizona Christian history.

Santa Cruz keeps on dealing

LCSC is no stranger to Opening Round comebacks. Last year, the Warriors were down 7-2 to Hope International (Calif.) and 3-0 to Concordia (Mich.) in the Opening Round before coming back to win both games.

But an 11-0 deficit was already an incredibly steep hill to climb. Santa Cruz's efforts on the mound made that hill almost completely vertical.

The senior from Phoenix helped snuff out any glimmer of hope LCSC had at a comeback. He walked 2-of-33 batters faced and allowed three hits. Two of those hits came in the first two innings.

"Honestly, it kind of helps when you see 11 runs on the board," Santa Cruz said. "Makes it a little easier. A lot less stress on my shoulders. It's a team game at the end of the day and I know my boys got my back. ... (I was) just getting ahead in the count, throwing strikes. All year I've struggled with falling behind early in the count. And it's evident. Once you get ahead, you throw strikes early and you're in such a better position to compete."

Wednesday was the longest outing for Santa Cruz since he went seven innings in a game May 2, 2023, against Golden State Athletic Conference foe Vanguard (Calif.).

Arizona Christian holds all the cards

The GSAC was one of the toughest conferences in the NAIA this season — arguably the most competitive. The GSAC sent four teams to the Opening Round and two of those teams, including the Firestorm, are still alive.

Arizona Christian made it through the conference all the better and, as of Tuesday, look like the best team in the Lewiston bracket. It has a 2-0 record in the bracket and a one-game advantage over the two remaining teams: British Columbia and the Warriors.

"Our conference is the best in the country top to bottom — at least it was this year," McDonald said. "Our nonconference schedule was in the top 20 as far as strength of schedule. We've been preparing since Game 1 (in Phoenix) to now and our guys just put in the work and continue to put in the work until the job is done."

The Firestorm's efforts on Tuesday put LCSC in a position for something that hasn't happened in a generation.

Warriors in do-or-die mode

Lewis-Clark State has had to play through the Opening Round the last three seasons (including this year) to guarantee a spot in the Avista NAIA World Series.

Before 2022, the Warriors got a guaranteed berth to the Series due to being the host site.

LCSC made it through the Opening Round and to the World Series championship game in 2022 and 2023.

The first year the Warriors had to go through the Opening Round, they lost to UBC in a championship-round game May 18, 2022. LCSC won the if-necessary game the next day to advance to the Series. But that year, the Warriors had to win just one game after their loss. This year, they have to win three.

"I like to think we're going to show up and be ready to go for 18 innings (today) one pitch at a time," Taylor said. "That's the only thing we can do, honestly. And it's easy to say, but we got to get rid of (Tuesday) and learn from it and move on."

Two of those wins have to come against Arizona Christian. Not an impossible feat, but a difficult one.

This is a situation that the Warriors haven't had to navigate before. If they succeed, then it'll be business as usual and LCSC will be among the 10-team field in the NAIA World Series.

If it fails, then the World Series will be without the 19-time champions for the first time since 1998.

"We're definitely down to that do-or-die situation but we're more than capable of winning three in a row," Taylor said. "I talked to the team and I told them if they take anything from (Tuesday to today), then we might have some problems. If we show up and compete and play with energy, then we should be just fine."


ab r h bi ab r h bi

Booth cf 4 0 1 0 Ivy cf 5 2 2 1

Seamons lf 2 0 1 0 Titialii lf 4 2 4 4

Signorelli ss 3 0 0 0 Tarver 1b 5 1 1 1

George 2b 1 0 0 0 Kiaunis 3b 3 0 2 2

Gish 1b 4 0 0 0 Anderson rf 3 0 0 1

Updegrave dh 3 0 0 0 Vielguth ph 1 0 0 0

Cabrera rf 3 0 1 0 Garcia dh 3 1 2 0

De Sa 3b 3 0 0 0 Collins c 4 1 1 2

Ephan c 3 0 0 0 Thomas pr/rf 0 1 0 0

Marquez c 0 0 0 0 Beckworth ss 3 2 0 0

Hfstttr 2b/ss 3 0 0 0 Edmonds 2b 4 1 1 0

Totals 29 0 3 0 Totals 35 11 13 11

Lewis-Clark State 000 000 000— 0 3 1

Arizona Christian 005 240 00x—11 13 1

Lewis-Clark State ip h r er bb so

George (L, 6-2) 2.0 6 5 5 1 0

Hanson 1.0 0 2 0 1 0

Lucas 1.0 1 2 2 0 1

Farber 4.0 6 2 2 0 3

Arizona Christian ip h r er bb so

Santa Cruz (W, 10-5) 9.0 3 0 0 2 12

Kowatsch can be contacted at 208-848-2268, or on Twitter @Teren_Kowatsch.