MOUNT CARMEL -- Hosting the Northern District Title after a historically strong campaign, Wabash Valley College had the luxury of home field advantage as they sought to punch their ticket to the NJCAA Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. They began the week with a 14-4 victory over Rend Lake, but lost 8-7 to Iowa Western, dropping the Warriors to the losers bracket. They bounced back with a 14-4 victory over Triton College, setting for a title rematch with the Reivers, needing to win two games to advance.
Wabash Valley College won the first game of the title 11-8 over Iowa Western, forcing a winner takes all game two. In the final game the two teams battled back and forth, but the Reivers emerged victorious after a late inning push to defeat the Warriors 10-5 and advance to Grand Junction on Monday afternoon at Wabash Valley College.
In game one of the title game the Warriors (55-4) tossed flamethrowing freshman southpaw Antoine Kelly Jr. Kelly was knocked out after three innings of work, having allowed five runs, though four were earned as the Reivers led 5-1 early on. The Warrior bats picked up the slack for Kelly as the game extended, scoring 10 runs in the final three innings of the game and having their lead reach as high as 11-5.
Their bats were led by four Warriors who hit homers, sophomore Miguel Rivera, who went 2-for-4 with three runs scored, two RBIs and a homer, freshman Manny Gonzalez, who hit a pinch hit three-run homer, sophomore Mason Sykes, who went 1-for-2 with a three-run bomb and lastly freshman Savier Pinales, who slashed a solo shot and went 1-for-4.
Warrior closer CJ Weins came on in relief after Kelly was pulled and pitched exceptionally well. Weins (5-0) tossed 4 2-3 innings, allowing five hits, no runs and fanning six batters to setup the Warriors' rally and eventual 11-8 victory.
Now with their season on the line, the Warriors were set to toss the man at the top of their rotation, sophomore righty Ryan O'Connell. O'Connell has been the Warriors' ace this season, having tossed season-high innings pitched for WVC and often called upon by WVC head coach Rob Fournier.
O'Connell didn't have his best day on the mound, with both teams having scorching hot bats all tournament long. O'Connell exited after six innings of work and with the score tied at 4-4. Freshman righty Burrell Jones succeeded O'Connell in the seventh inning and the Warriors quickly ran into trouble (though Jones inherited some). Jones allowed one earned run and an additional on O'Connell's line, as the Reivers (48-9) pulled ahead 6-4 heading into the bottom of the seventh.
The Warriors bats didn't have the same level of success that they had in game one of the title and they were in dire need of it with their season on the line. Iowa Western held Wabash Valley scoreless in the seventh and eight innings and all of the sudden Wabash Valley's historical campaign seemed as if it were set to come to a close.
As the top of the ninth came the rails fell off for the Warriors. Iowa Western scored four runs off of freshman righty Mason Vinyard, though none were earned, pushing the lead to 10-4 and putting Wabash Valley in a major hole.
With their season now on the line in one final inning of action, the Warriors mustered just one run in the bottom half of the inning off of Iowa Western closer Trystan Kimmell to fall 10-5 as the Reivers celebrated another ticket punched to Grand Junction.
The Warrior bats in the final game were led by Noah Myers, who had the best day at the dish in game two for WVC. The sophomore center fielder and South Carolina commit posted a 1-for-3 line with a double, three RBIs, two walks and a stolen base.
On the Wabash Valley side, surely disappointment. This team aspired to some incredible heights, including a 49-game win streak, an undefeated conference mark, as well as the reigning No. 1 team in the country for many weeks. They'll lose a massive chunk of their lineup for next season, including sophomore Cael Baker, Rivera, Myers, O'Connell and likely Kelly among many others -- meaning Fournier will have the unenviable task of reloading the roster, though he's fully capable of piecing together another top-tier team.
As another season concludes in Wabash Valley, Fournier and the Warriors will hope to learn from the experience and come back with another successful campaign and hopefully reach their ultimate goal of making it to Grand Junction.
For Iowa Western, they'll look to add their fourth national title in program history in Grand Junction.