College baseball NCAA Division II
PLNU celebrates after their 5-2 win to clinch. a spot in the NCAA Division II College World Series. Photo credit: Screen shot, @PLNUSeaLions, via Twitter

For the first time in program history, Point Loma Nazarene will head to the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship, as the Sea Lions dispatched Azusa Pacific Saturday.

It came down to a 5-2 victory in the closing game of the three-game set at the NCAA West Super Regional, which PLNU hosted. That contest was needed because the Sea Lions dropped the first of Saturday’s two games 7-2, forcing a winner-take-all afternoon battle.

PLNU (48-8) will continue their season in Cary, N.C. Saturday when the Division II World Series begins with the seven other teams that survived the Super Regionals.

The team must wait until Sunday though to learn of their first-round match-up, before heading to North Carolina.

Both Sea Lion starters proved solid Saturday, with Jack Gonzales and Dylan Miller each holding the Cougars (38-20) to two runs in their respective six-plus inning outings. But Azusa Pacific – after dropping Friday’s game, fighting to stave off elimination – got to the bullpen in the opener, scoring five in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and secure the win.

In the second game, down 2-0 early, PLNU bounced back behind Miller and Zach Veen, who closed it out with two-plus scoreless innings.

“We talk about you needing two things,” said coach Justin James. “You need God and pitching and that always helps. And then these guys, once they get that electricity going through the dugout, I’ve never seen a dugout go bananas the way they do. They do love supporting each other and you can see the zeal all over the place.”

In the clincher, Azusa Pacific’s momentum continued, with runs in the second and fourth innings to jump out to a 2-0 lead.

PLNU answered in their half of the fourth, with back-to-back solo home runs by DH Hunter Otjen and first baseman Jakob Christian.

The Sea Lions pulled ahead for good in the fifth thanks to a two-out rally. Scott Anderson sparked it with a double, followed by walks to Baxter Halligan and Otjen to load the bases for Christian.

The PacWest conference Freshmen of the Year then shot a ball into left field to score two and give PLNU a 4-2 lead. The team added a run in the seventh as Anderson sent a hanging curveball from Cougar reliever Brendan Dixon over the left-field fence.

The three-run cushion was more than enough for Veen. The lefty reliever needed just one pitch to escape a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, and he retired the next six batters he faced for his sixth save of the season.

Once he induced Aaron Roose to hit a grounder to Anderson – the shortstop was the PacWest Defensive Player of the Year – the Sea Lions’ ticket to the Division II College World Series was assured.

In the opener, Cougar starter Steven Silvas more than matched Gonzales, holding PLNU batters hitless through the first four innings. But the Sea Lions manufactured runs in the fifth, after Silvas hit catcher Easton Waterman and gave up a bunt single to Jack Malone, which led to an error. 

Jason DuMont drove in Waterman on a groundout, then Otto Kemp singled to left to score Malone and give PLNU a 2-0 lead.

The Cougars tied it up with runs in the sixth and seventh, then broke it open the following inning, as Cole Hiller proved shaky, loading the bases for shortstop Omar Lopez, who made him pay.

Lopez’ grand slam to right chased Hillier, and before it was over, Azusa Pacific had added another run to pad their lead to 7-2. The Cougars retired PLNU’s batters 1-2-3 in the ninth for the win to briefly keep their season alive.

Correction: Changed to accurately reflect the day the College World Series begins.