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Baseball Team Finishes 2nd at NCCAA DII World Series
The Clearwater Christian College baseball team finished 2nd in the nation, playing 6 games over 4 days and winning 2 dramatic extra-inning games at the NCCAA DII College World Series at Prasco Park in Mason, Ohio. The Cougars had an unbelievable run all the way to the national championship game before losing 3-0 in the championship game to Toccoa Falls College.
The Cougars came into the tournament as the #5 seed and faced Manhattan Christian College in the opening game on Wednesday morning. Casey Nunez went 3-3 at the plate with 2 walks as he spurred Clearwater Christian College to a 4-3 victory over Manhattan Christian College in eight innings. Spencer Nunez pitched a strong game for the Cougars, striking out six before leaving after six innings with the game tied 3-3. Isaiah Marsh threw two innings of scoreless ball for Clearwater Christian College to get the win.
Following the win over Manhattan, the Cougars advanced to the 2nd round game against Toccoa Falls College, the #1 seed who had advanced with an easy 15-3 win over Philadelphia Biblical University. The game was a showdown between the ace pitchers from both teams, with Brent Kirkley pitching for CCC and Dylan Charles for TFC. After 5 scoreless innings, the Eagles broke through in the 6th inning following 2 crucial errors by the Cougars with an 8 run explosion to put the game out of reach and lift Toccoa to an 8-2 win.
The loss to Toccoa sent the Cougars into the loserís bracket of the double elimination tournament where they would face a tough road to the title. In their first elimination game, Clearwater faced the defending national champion Atlanta Christian College Chargers. In perhaps the game of the tournament and one of the biggest wins in program history, Clearwater Christian College defeated the Chargers 5-4 in 10 innings to advance. Tied at 3-3 in the top of the 10th inning, Matt Vasquez hit a dramatic 2 run home run to lift the Cougars to the win. Starter Billy Couchenour pitched 6 strong innings for the Cougars, yielding only 3 runs, and Isaiah Marsh again came up big in relief, shutting down the Charger offense for 4 innings to earn his 2nd win of the tournament.
Following an extended rain delay prior to the next round of the tournament, Clearwater jumped on Ohio Christian University early on its way to an 8-5 win, scoring five runs in the first inning. Joe Keen led the way with a 2 run double in the first inning, and Chaz Russo had a great day at the plate, going 4-4 to pace the Cougars. Senior Josh Rebandt started for the Cougars, pitching 4 1/3 strong innings, and Josh Williams was superb in relief, pitching 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win while collecting five strikeouts.
Immediately after eliminating Ohio, Clearwater advanced to play Dallas Christian in the national semi-final game. The Cougars got a complete team effort in defeating Dallas 8-6, finishing with 11 hits from 8 different batters and earning 13 walks. Luke Harding and Ryan McDonald led the way for the Cougars, each coming up with clutch hits to earn 2 RBIís each. On the mound, the Cougars went with a pitcher by committee approach with 5 different pitchers throwing for Clearwater with Spencer Nunez earning the win. Isaiah Marsh was again dominant in relief, striking out the final batter with runners in scoring position to earn the save and advance the Cougars to the National Championship game. In the championship matchup, the Cougars faced a familiar opponent in Toccoa Falls, having split 6 games with their fellow South region rival. Toccoa was fresh coming into the game after running through the winnerís bracket and having the previous day off. In contrast, the Cougars came into the 11 a.m. game weary from playing 5 games in the tournament and finishing the rain-delayed semi-final game at nearly 1 a.m. the night before. The Cougars were able to get runners on base against TFC pitcher Cam Fulcher, but never could get the big hit to score a run. Fulcher was able to shut down the Cougars, pitching 6 2/3 innings for the win. Brent Kirkley started for the Cougars and only gave up 1 run over 4 innings. The Eagles were able to manufacture runs in the 1st, 4th, and 6th innings to earn the 3-0 win and their 2nd national championship in 3 years.
In addition to their runner-up award and plaque, the Cougars were selected as the winner of the Sportsmanship Award for the tournament. Several Cougar players also picked up national honors. Isaiah Marsh and Casey Nunez were selected to the NCCAA National All-Tournament Team. David Edwards and Brent Kirkley were named NCCAA All-Americans, and Kirkley was named National Pitcher of the Year. Luke Harding was named Scholar Athlete, and was also presented with the prestigious Hank Burbridge Unlimited Potential Christian Leadership Award for his contributions both on and off the field.
Coach Raul Hernandez had this to say about the team following the conclusion of the World Series: ďIím very proud to be associated with a group of young men who made it their focus this week to use their gifts and talents to glorify God. These young men represented the Lord, their family and Clearwater Christian College at the highest level. As a coach this has been one of the highlights of my coaching career. This world series experience will profoundly change and mark all of us who were a part of the Cougar family.Ē
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