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Keeping the Hope, and the faith

May 30—For a team playing on the brink of elimination for most of its 2024 Avista NAIA World Series, a six-run deficit in the eighth inning against the highest-seeded team remaining was nothing to panic about for Hope International on Wednesday at Harris Field.

The Royals were long used to staving off elimination and their biggest challenge yet wasn't going to stop them from continuing their historic season.

In a wild final two innings, fourth-seeded Hope International scored 10 runs to defeat second-seeded Georgia Gwinnett 15-11 in a game it trailed 11-5 with just six outs remaining.

"To be honest, I felt God with us today from the very start of the game and obviously going into that last inning, everybody just strung together good at-bats and obviously we got rewarded for it," said Royals star JJ Cruz, who went 5-for-6 with five RBI and was a triple short of hitting for the cycle.

After losing its opening game to Reinhardt on Friday, Hope International (44-16) has won four straight games in the losers' bracket.

Hope International, quite frankly, never lost the "hope," and that attitude came in handy in the late innings Wednesday.

Here's how the Royals' rally went down:

Eating up the eighth

Hope International's Derek Sims blasted a leadoff home run to left field to start the eighth inning — an omen of what was to come for the Royals.

The Fullerton, Calif., school scored two more runs on RBI-doubles — the latter by Cruz following a lengthy review on a ball originally called foul down the line in left field — and Alex Moreno crossed home plate on a wild pitch.

Just like that, Georgia Gwinnett's six-run lead was cut to two, 11-9.

The review was an interesting one. The ball deflected off the outstretched glove of Georgia Gwinnett shortstop Jackson Cobb and landed in foul territory. But from the multiple camera angles, it was hard to tell whether the ball was fair or foul when it touched his glove.

The baseball gods were apparently on Hope International's side as the foul ball was reversed and called a double for Cruz.

Ninth-inning heroics

The score remained the same going into the top of the ninth, and Hope International quickly put its first three batters on base.

When pinch hitter Mylan Jones dribbled a bunt perfectly along the edge of the chalk down the third-base line to load the bases, it seemed like the stars were continuing to align for the Royals.

Georgia Gwinnett was falling apart.

A hit-by-pitch and a full-count walk brought home two runs to tie the game at 11-11.

Then Moreno hit a ball right up the middle to score two more runs, and the Royals finally led for the first time since the second inning.

The final two runs came courtesy of Alec Arnone's long ball that bounced high off the wall in left field.

Georgia Gwinnett failed to get any runs in the bottom of the ninth, which fittingly ended when Grizzlies star Blaze O'Saben grounded into a double play (pitcher to shortstop at second to first base).

With the crazy victory behind them and a loss by Reinhardt in the day's other game, the Royals are rewarded with a rest day. Hope International — the only team without a bye so far in the tournament — will play in the national championship game Friday, against the winner of today's rematch between Reinhardt and Tennessee Wesleyan.

"We play for the guy behind us," Cruz said. "We trust everybody on this ball club and it just felt really good obviously. ... This is what we've been working for all season."

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2277, swiebe@lmtribune.com or on Twitter @StephanSports.