by Jason Mehl
Director of Sports Information
The Toccoa Falls College Baseball team repeated as National Champions at the NCCAA Div. II World Series in Cincinnati last week. The championship is TFC’s third in four years but might have been the most difficult to achieve. The top-seeded Eagles won their first two games (10-0 and 3-1) of the double-elimination tournament, but lost game three, 6-5 to Florida Christian College, which sent them to the loser’s bracket. Thanks to a no-hitter from Dylan Charles, TFC beat Manhattan Christian College (Kansas) 6-2 which earned them the chance to beat Florida Christian twice on May 12, the final day of the tournament. TFC’s Zach Breeden pitched a complete game shutout for the first win of the day, and Justin Key and Nate Bowen combined for the 3-2 win in a gutsy and intense championship game.
In the opening game of the tournament on May 9, TFC’s Micah Ellington earned his sixth win of the season allowing only one hit in a 10-0 six-inning shutout of Lancaster Bible College. Both teams were scoreless through two innings, but the Eagles got on the board with three runs in the bottom of the 3rd after a double from Cam Fulcher, and singles from Adam Reynolds, Josh Ward and Tyrone Dawson. In the bottom of the 5th Jordan Couillard, Cory Klassen and Fulcher each drove in runs as part of a six-run inning that put TFC ahead 9-0. In the bottom of the 6th Klassen singled in Zach Warner to give TFC the early 10-0 victory.
The next day TFC took care of Dallas Christian College 3-1. Dallas Christian scored one run off TFC’s Justin Key in the top of the 2nd inning, but that’s all they would get. They threatened again, loading the bases in the 5th, but Key and the Eagles got out of the jam and responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Corey Warner’s two-out single drove in Reynolds to tie the score at 1-1. Later in the inning Tyrone Dawson and Warner scored on Dallas Christian errors to put TFC up 3-1. Key went five innings and got the win, his fifth of the season. Nate Bowen pitched the 6th and 7th innings and notched his 10th save. Corey Warner, Dawson, Ward and Andrew Thorne all hit safely for the Eagles.
The following day TFC faced Florida Christian for the first time in the tournament, but the eighth time in the season. TFC was 3-1 against the conference runners-up during the regular season and 2-1 against them when they won the conference title two weeks before.
TFC Head Coach Justin Pollock gave the starting pitching assignment to Fulcher who was a regular starter for TFC last season but has been dealing with shoulder irritation and hadn’t started a game since March. TFC put up one run in the top of the 2nd inning when Couillard tripled and Klassen drove him in. In the bottom of the inning, Fulcher got into early trouble and the bases were loaded with no outs. He walked in FCC’s first run and they went on to score three more in the inning to go up 4-1. FCC’s Brent Hodge kept the TFC bats quiet and FCC added one more run in the 5th and the 6th inning and led 6-1 going into the 7th. TFC’s Reynolds led off with a double. Dawson then struck out, but Josh Ward then reached first base on catcher interference and advanced to second on a Key single, loading the bases with one out. Hodge was relieved and Corey Warner went right to work and singled to drive in Reynolds and Ward and move Key to third. The score was 6-3. Zach Warner then hit a line-drive double to right to score Key and put Corey Warner on third and make it 6-4. Couillard followed up with a single to right that scored Corey Warner and put Zach Warner on third and brought the Eagles within one run. The next batter, Thorne, flew out to shallow right field, not deep enough for Zach Warner to try to score from third. Klassen then struck out swinging for the final out.
The loss put TFC in the loser’s bracket where they met Manhattan Christian on May 11. Charles took the mound and threw the first recorded no-hitter in TFC history for his eighth win of the year. With the Eagles up 2-0 in the 3rd inning, Charles walked the first batter and hit the second and both of those runners went on to score due to an error and a sacrifice-fly and the score was tied 2-2. But TFC scored two more in the top of the 3rd when a Dawson single drove in Couillard and Ward’s sacrifice-fly scored Thorne.
Klassen led off the 6th with a triple and Reynolds drove him in. Later in the inning Ward walked and stole second and then scored on a Key single up the middle and the Eagles led 6-2. Charles didn’t need the cushion. After the second inning he allowed only two Manhattan base runners and left them both stranded with ground-outs, fly-outs and strike-outs. Charles struck out eight batters in seven innings.
At 11:00 am on May 12, while most of the TFC community was involved in the Commencement ceremony on campus, Zach Breeden took the mound for a do-or-die game against Florida Christian and pitched a complete game shut-out. Breeden gave up five hits, walked one batter and struck out eight in seven innings.
The Eagles managed only five hits off FCC pitching but they turned them into five runs. With two outs in the bottom of the 1st inning, Corey Warner doubled and then scored on a Zach Warner single to left field. The next batter, Couillard, drove in Zach Warner with another single to left to put the Eagles up 2-0.
Ward led off the bottom of the 5th with a walk. Key then singled up the middle. Corey Warner moved the runners up with a ground out, then Zach Warner was intentionally walked to load the bases for Couillard, who hit a ground ball to second that was mishandled. Ward and Key scored on the play and runners advanced to second and third. Then Fulcher then hit a sacrifice fly that scored Zach Warner for TFC’s fifth run.
At 1:30 pm Justin Key took the mound in the championship game, starting his second game in four days. TFC put up two runs in the top of the 2nd inning. Couillard led off with a walk and Fulcher moved him to second with a sacrifice. Klassen flied out for the second out of the inning, then Thorne walked. Reynolds then singled to left to score Couillard and advance the other runners. The next batter, Ward, singled to right to score Thorne and the Eagles were up 2-0.
In the bottom of the 3rd inning Key gave up a lead-off double that Florida Christian turned into one run to make the score 2-1. In the top of the 5th the Eagles went up 3-1 when Zach Warner doubled to left field to score Corey Warner. Florida Christian made it 3-2 with another run off Key in the bottom of the 5th.
Bowen relieved Key in the bottom of the 6th and struck out the first batter, but then loaded the bases when he walked the next batter, gave up a single to another, then hit another. With the bases loaded and only one out, Bowen dug in and struck out the last two batters, swinging. The Eagles were retired in order in the top of the 7th and Bowen took the mound in the bottom of the inning. He gave up a bunt single to the first batter, but retired the next three for his 11th save of the season. Key got the pitching win, his second of the tournament and sixth of the season.
Key’s gutsy pitching earned him the tournament MVP award. He was also named to the All-Tournament team along with Charles and Breeden. Pollock was named National Coach of the Year for the third time in eight years. Bowen and Zach Warner received All-America honors.
Pollock commended the entire team for their performance throughout the season and the tournament. In addition to those players who were honored with awards at the tournament, he singled out the offensive and defensive contribution of third baseman Corey Warner, whose.533 average for the week, eight hits, five runs-scored and four RBI led the team. “[Warner] made some great defense plays–two that were game-savers–and hit the ball really well, not just in the tournament but down the stretch in the season,” Pollock said.
Unofficial photo but it is still our Eagles and we’re proud of them!