GAME 7: Who burns hotter? It's the Firestorm, by just a bit

May 26—On Friday, ninth-seeded Arizona Christian set the record for the most runs scored in the opening game of the Avista NAIA World Series. On Saturday at Harris Field, the Firestorm downed the No. 1 Southeastern Fire 5-3 in 11 innings to become the first No. 9 seed to defeat a top-seeded squad since 2012.

"That was just a high-level, quality baseball game," Arizona Christian coach Joe McDonald said. "Going extras with the No. 1 team in the country. Coach (Adrian) Dinkel is a very good friend of mine. We're becoming closer and closer as the years go on. Lots of respect for him."

Arizona Christian's excitement after the game was palpable. The team was already planning for its celebration dinner with chants of "Taco Time" in the dugout. Before the visitors from Arizona chowed down on some Mexi-Fries, it had to stave off a Southeastern pitching staff that McDonald called the best in the country.

Extra innings, extra moments

For two teams with 'fire' in their name, most of Saturday's game was without any fireworks. The biggest crowd of the Series so far (1,835 people) got their money's worth by the end.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Fire's junior right fielder, Landrey Wilkerson, made it to third base on a run-down attempt and scored the game-tying run after a throwing error to third charged to Firestorm second baseman Jaylen Edmonds.

Wilkerson's run made the score 3-3 and guaranteed the first extra-inning game of the 2024 World Series.

Arizona Christian (38-19) handed its pitching duties to Trey Tarver in the bottom half of the 10th. The junior was playing first base before he took the mound. Tarver also helped bring in his team's first run in the top of the sixth after grounding into a fielder's choice that scored Edmonds.

Southeastern (51-7) got a runner on base in its first at-bat against Tarver, but the Firestorm got out of the inning soon after with a 5-4-3 double play.

"Just trying to stay calm and relaxed, I think, is a big thing," Tarver said. "I think in those big moments you can tend to amp yourself up. So (I) was just trying to stay calm, rely on my defense and not needing a strikeout, just let our defense work. ... That double play was huge by them."

Arizona Christian shortstop Matthew Beckworth hit an RBI single to give the Firestorm a 4-3 lead in the top of the fourth and senior first baseman Riley Quinton, filling in for Tarver at first base, scored on a wild pitch to put Arizona Christian up by the eventual final score of 5-3.

Tarver got his only strikeout of the game to kick off the bottom of the 11th. Two at-bats later, the Firestorm won their second Series game the same way they did their first: a fly out to right field.

"Man, I'm so proud of our guys," McDonald said. "Just the fortitude, the grit and the grind to believe in each other and believe in ourselves. Man, I just can't be more proud of our guys."

Southeastern shows early pop

The Fire will next play in an elimination game against Cumberlands (Ky.) at 8:35 a.m. Monday. Southeastern had the advantage in the early pitching duel on Saturday. Starter Darien Smith, the likely NAIA pitcher of the year, went seven innings and outlasted Arizona Christian starter Adrian Santa Cruz by two-thirds of an inning.

Southeastern's junior second baseman Cristopher Munoz hit a solo home run in the bottom of the third to put the Fire up 1-0. Munoz hit an RBI single two innings later to give Southeastern a 2-0 lead through five.

Kane Kiaunis hit a single in the top of the sixth for his fifth RBI of the Series and to tie the game at 2-2. Junior Jared Anderson tacked on another score with a single in the eighth to give the Firestorm a 3-2 lead — their first advantage of the game. Anderson capped off his go-ahead hit with a Michael Jordan-esque shrug at first base.

"We knew coming in that (Southeastern) was a really good pitching team," Tarver said. "I think that they have the best pitching staff in the country. Knowing that this was going to be a tough ball game, we needed to do everything. We needed to play small ball. We needed to do everything and play as a team."

Arizona Christian no longer a dark horse

Just two games into the week-long tournament, Arizona Christian set the aforementioned Series Game 1 runs-record, Andrew Ivy tied the record for runs scored in a single game and the team became the first No. 9 seed in over a decade to beat the top seed in the tournament. The last ninth seed to pull off that trick was Rogers State, which knocked off LSU Shreveport 2-1 in 2012.

The Fire's loss puts them in an unusual position. The only time Southeastern lost its opening Series game during its six-year streak was in 2019 against Sun Conference foe St. Thomas (Fla.). The Fire will need to win five straight games to win their third World Series title in six years.


ab r h bi ab r h bi

Ivy cf 4 1 0 0 Munoz 2b 5 1 2 2

Titialii lf 4 0 0 0 Castillo c 3 0 0 0

Tarver 1b/p 4 0 1 1 Gonzalez c 1 0 0 0

Thomas rf 1 1 0 0 Delay pr 0 0 0 0

Kiaunis 3b 5 0 2 1 Nunez ss 5 0 0 0

Anderson rf 5 1 2 1 Lora 1b 5 0 1 0

Garcia dh 4 0 1 0 Villalobos 3b 5 0 2 0

Quinton 1b 1 1 1 0 Pigozzo cf 5 0 1 0

Collins c 4 0 1 0 Smith lf 2 1 0 0

Eastham c 1 0 0 0 Mondragon lf 2 0 0 0

Beckworth ss 4 0 1 1 Wilkerson rf 3 1 0 0

Edmonds 2b 4 1 1 0 Bryant ph 1 0 0 0

Vielguth ph 1 0 0 0 Davis dh 3 0 1 0

Totals 42 5 10 4 Totals 40 3 7 2

Arizona Christian 000 002 010 02—5 10 2

Southeastern 001 010 001 00—3 7 1

Arizona Chr. ip h r er bb so

Santa Cruz 6.1 5 2 2 0 4

Robertson 0.2 0 0 0 0 1

Hohensee 2 2 1 0 0 1

Tarver (W,1-6) 2 0 0 0 1 1

Southeastern ip h r er bb so

Smith 7 4 2 2 2 4

Gottilla 0.2 2 1 1 0 1

Wissinger (L,1-1) 2.2 3 2 2 0 5

David 0.2 1 0 0 0 2

Attendance — 1,835.

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


Arizona Christian first baseman/pitcher Trey Tarver initiated the fielder's choice to get the Firestorm on the board and earned his first win of the season at pitcher. Southeastern's Cristopher Munoz had both of his team's RBI, one of which came off a solo home run — his sixth of the year.


"Close games are the funnest, right? Close games are more fun than those big games. The energy in this place — everything was so electric and that's what baseball is all about."

— Arizona Christian first baseman/pitcher Trey Tarver