Royals are coming for the crown

May 23—The last time Hope International made the Series, it went 0-2 and was one of the first two teams eliminated.

But this is a new year, and this is a new Royals team.

Hope booked its flight to Lewiston with a 3-1 record in the Fayette Opening Round bracket — capped off with a 9-3 win against Tabor (Kan.) in the if-necessary championship game.

The Royals had to overcome No. 8 Central Methodist in the Opening Round. This just added to the list of some great-to-elite teams Hope has had to face this season: Southeastern, Tennesee Wesleyan, British Columbia, and Golden State Athletic Conference foes Arizona Christian and Jessup.

"We never take any opponent lightly," Hope coach Larry Mahoney said. "We go in with the mindset that everyone we're playing can beat us and is more dominant than us. So we just make sure that we prepare. ... We went through the early part of the year with some ups and downs."

The Royals nearly punched their ticket the Series last year but fell just short in the Lewiston bracket. This year, they entered with a new focus and were sharpened by the tough out-of-conference and in-conference slate.

Hope has four batters hitting .349 or better and with an OPS of plus-1.000 — JJ Cruz, David Rivera, Alex Moreno and Amari Bartee. Cruz's jump in play has been noticeable. He ended last season batting .320. This year, his average has gone up to .408 to go with a 1.139 OPS, 12 home runs, 20 doubles and 70 RBI.

"The overall goal is to be back in Lewiston, and I think we just had that chip on our shoulders — all of the guys who were in (the Opening Round) last year, including myself," Cruz said. "We always told ourselves, no matter what happened, whether we win or lose, let's just compete. Hard nine innings, 27 outs. And if we do that, we give everything we have, we put ourselves in a good position."

The Royals' pitching was also the best in the GSAC — an accomplishment considering the high-octane offenses it had to face. In 55 games, the staff is allowing a .241 batting average and has a 4.83 team ERA. The staff is bolstered by Trey Seeley, who leads the GSAC and is sixth in the NAIA with 116 strikeouts.

Hope has an argument as one of the most balanced teams in the Series, top to bottom. It also has some familiarity with several of their Series adversaries.

The last time the Royals were in the Series, it was a quick stay. Now they have a very realistic chance to stick around a lot longer.

> Hope International

Location: Fullerton, Calif.

Nickname: Royals

Coach: Larry Mahoney (third season)

Season record: 40-15

Rank in final NAIA poll: No. 8

How qualified: Won Fayette Bracket

Number of appearances; best finish: Two, first two eliminated (2017)

> Juice (out of five stars)


Two of the Royals' top three starters are throwing below a 4.00 ERA and all three are allowing a batting average below a .249.


Hope has five relievers with more than 15 appearances. One of them is allowing a batting average over .253. All of them average more than one strikeout per inning.

FIELDING: «« 1/2

It's hard to judge how much of Hope's fielding struggles are quanity vs. quality. The Royals have the second most fielding errors in the GSAC (76) but also have the most chances. They committed six errors in four games in the Opening Round, but all of them came in the first two games.


The Royals were third in the GSAC this year in hitting (.322), home runs (77) and RBI (445). The top three — David Rivera, Alex Moreno, JJ Cruz — combined for 30 home runs, 66 doubles and 166 RBI.

SPEED: «««

The Royals don't steal a lot, but they're efficient when they do. Amari Bartee has swiped 20 bases in 22 attempts; the team is 72-for-92 on steals this year.


This may just be the second Series appearance for the Royals, but they've been an NAIA mainstay for a while now. Hope has played Southeastern, Tennessee Wesleyan and Arizona Christian this season, and beat No. 8 Central Methodist in its Opening Round bracket.