CARY — Triangle fans who arrived at the NCAA Division II national baseball championship midway through the contest for the postgame fireworks show were too late to find empty seats on a night a record crowd of 2,848 turned out Saturday at the USA Baseball Complex.
As it turned out, the true fans were treated to free baseball and the late arrivals a full game as the extra-inning affair wasn’t decided until Southern Indiana scored on a bases-loaded walk in the top of the 12th inning for a 3-2 win over Colorado Mesa.
Matt Bowles drew the game-winning walk after Andrew Cope was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a blooper single by Ryan Bertram that was nearly snared by Mesa third baseman Tony Audino.
Southern Indiana’s Matt Chavaria, who picked up the save in Friday’s win to advance to the final, pitched the final four innings to record the win after starting the game at shortstop.
“Matt is a great player who has done it for us all year,” Southern Indiana coach Tracy Archuleta said. “We have great fans and we have players who are committed to winning a national championship.”
The record crowd marked significant growth for the sixth year of the game in Cary, where only 734 fans turned out the first year it was played here in 2009. The extra-inning affair also snapped a three-year streak of anti-climatic championship games with one-sided finishes.
Sixth-ranked Southern Indiana (49-13) also won the 2010 title in Cary. Fourth-ranked Colorado Mesa (48-14) was making its first championship game appearance.
Southern Indiana scored first when Kyle Kempf led off the game with a single and scored on a double by Matt Chavarria.
Colorado Mesa’s rally for a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third started with three consecutive bunts – aided by two throwing errors. One of Mesa coach Chris Hanks’ philosophies is to make teams “play catch.”
Austin Wallingford, leading off the inning, bunted and advanced to second when third baseman Matt Bowles threw the ball into right field foul territory. Kevan Elcock put down another bunt and this time pitcher Ben Wright threw the ball into right field foul territory; Wallingford came home and Elcock took second.
A third bunt by Sergio Valenzuela sacrificed Elcock to third and right fielder Austin Kaiser followed with a single to left field to score Elcock with his 61st RBI of the year in 59 games.
Southern Indiana tied the game in the eighth with an unearned run on an error fielding a bunt. Kempf walked and advanced to second when Andrew Cope was hit on the helmet. Matt Chaviarria followed with a bunt that pitcher Ryan Reno fielded down the third base line and threw into left field foul terriroty to allow Kempt to score.
Mesa got out of a jam in the top of the 11th when Southern Indiana executed a double-steal to put runners at second and third with one out.
Audino got the second out on a fairly routine ground ball to third that otherwise could have been a double-play without the steals. Next, Audino made a one-handed scoop on a short roller and threw off-balance for a close call at first. The umpire ruled an out to jeers from the Southern Indiana dugout and fans.
Southern Indian also got out of a jam in the bottom of the 10th when Mesa had runners on first and second with one out. Chavarria struck out the next two two batters.
“It was a great game, but we couldn’t come up with the key hit,” Mesa coach Chris Hank said.