PITTSBURG — The University of Saint Louis Billikens climbed out of an early hole and hit their way past the University of San Diego Toreros 11-5 Monday at Jaycee Ballpark to earn a spot in the National Club Baseball Association Division II World Series.
San Diego put up three runs in the first inning to take the first lead of the game, but St. Louis rallied with five runs in the first two innings to regain the lead. Backed by strong relief pitching which kept the Toreros scoreless over the last four frames, the Billikens pulled away with four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning on the way to the win.
“This was something we set out to do all year,” St. Louis’ Robert Guithues said. “Last year, we made it the World Series for the first time in program history and it feels good to get back here because it was a goal we accomplished. We’ve got one more game to go, but we are feeling great.”
St. Louis came into the NCBA DII World Series as the eighth seed. The team-wide mentality for the Billikens was making sure they let every opponent know they weren’t going to be an easy matchup regardless of seeding. Now with a perfect 3-0 record, St. Louis is one victory away from a championship season.
“The confidence is sky high right now,” St. Louis’ Christian Biondi said. “I don’t want to say we were disrespected because the seeding is based on the formula they have, but we came in here knowing we were better than the connotation of what an eight seed is. I think we’ve proven that so far and we are going to try to do it one more time.”
The 11 runs St. Louis hung up on the scoreboard against San Diego highlighted the team’s potent offense in the World Series to this point. In fact, the Billikens have scored 11 runs in all three games they’ve played. The strong production with the bat has the team’s confidence soaring every time they step into the batter’s box.
“The confidence is just contagious throughout the lineup. It’s not just one guy hitting,” Guithues said. “I checked the stats the other day, and we have five or six guys in the top 15 in the World Series. We aren’t pressing. We are taking it one pitch at a time and having great at-bats.”
Much of the success the Billikens had against the Toreros — particularly in the second and fourth innings — came with two outs in the inning. St. Louis took its first lead of the game with a three-run, two-out rally in second frame, and again scored four runs with two outs to pull in the fourth.
The Billikens had help, however, as San Diego committed seven errors on the day, resulting in seven unearned runs crossing the plate. On the flip side of the coin, the mark of a good team is taking advantage of the extra outs an opponent gives you — something St. Louis did very well.
“In high school, our coaches always told us if the other team commits more than two errors and we didn’t win, we were running laps,” St. Louis’ Gunner Vega said. “We did a good job of taking advantage of the extra opportunities when they gave them to us.”
Guithues — who was later named as the NCBA Player of the Game — tied the game up at 4-all with a two-out double on a line drive to left-center field which scored a pair of runs.
The next batter, Andy Oliver, reached base on an infield hit, but a throwing error by the Toreros allowed a run to score to give the Billikens a 5-4 lead.
After each team scored in the third to keep the difference at one, Matt Dreyer led off the bottom of the fourth with a double for the Billikens.
He took third on a ground out — the second out of the inning — but the throw back to third from across the diamond got away from the San Diego third baseman and allowed Dreyer to cross home plate.
Following a double from Tre Grigsby, Vega — who had three hits on the day — ripped a ball over the head of the Tony Ceron for an RBI triple to makes the score 8-5 in favor of St. Louis.
“I’m seeing the ball really well right now,” Vega said. “Not a lot of guys are throwing offspeed to me, so I’m just attacking the fastball and it’s been working.”
A second error in the inning allowed Vega to cross home plate, and Brandon Wong finished off the four-run fourth inning with a run-scoring double to right-center to double up the Billikens’ lead, 10-5.
The strong relief pitching from Guithues — who relieved Biondi in the fourth inning — stifled the Toreros’ offense through three frames. Guithues pitched a scoreless fourth, fifth and sixth innings, giving up three hits while striking out four to earn the win.
“I hurt my arm over the summer, so I haven’t been pitching much this year. It felt good to get back on the mound … Conner Glogowski called a great game — my fastball, changeup and curveball were all working.,” Guithues said.”Christian Biondi did a great job keeping us in the game. He did exactly what we wanted him to do as the starter.”
Biondi went the first three innings for St. Louis as the starter, allowing five runs, four earned, on eight hits, three walks and a pair of strikeouts.
Oliver pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh to seal the win, allowing a hit and a walk.
Neil Bruner took the loss for San Diego, pitching two innings and giving up five runs, three earned, on four hits and two walks.
Alec Weber pitched 1.2 innings in relief and gave up five runs, one earned, on five hits, while Tom Novick went 2.1 innings out of the bullpen and have up one run on one hit while striking out three.
Billikens at the Plate
Vega led St. Louis with a 3-for-4 game, including a triple. He had two RBIs and scored twice.
Grigsby went 2 for 4 with two runs scored, while Guithues had a double, drove in two and scored twice in the win.
Dreyer went 1 for 3 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI.
Toreros at the Plate
Will Knopka went 2 for 3 with and RBI and a run scored, while Anton Myskiw had a 2-for-3 day at the plate with a run scored.
Jake Gray doubled twice on the day, scoring once, while Ceron went 1 for 4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored.
The unbeaten Billikens square off with the unbeaten University of Tennessee at Chattanooga for the NCBA Division II World Series Championship at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Jaycee Ballpark.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Biondi said. “This is what it’s all about. We’ve never played them before, but we’re a loose and are going to come out ready to play.”
Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.