PLNU Pacific West
PLNU celebrates its 8-1 win Saturday to move on in the Division II College World Series in Cary, N.C. Photo credit: Screen shot, ncaa.com/liveupdates

Point Loma Nazarene scored early and late in their NCAA Division II National Championship opener, for an 8-1 win over No. 7 seed Illinois Springfield Saturday.

Otto Kemp scored two runs in the first two innings, but the game remained close, as the Sea Lions maintained a 4-1 lead until the eighth. Then Kemp drove in two more runs to help lead PLNU at the tournament, held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

Starter Baxter Halligan struggled early, but ultimately gave up up only one run in his 13th win. Zachary Veen and Cole Hillier combined for three shutout innings in relief as the closer picked up his 16th save.

With the win, No. 2 seed Point Loma (49-8) advances to face No. 3 Southern Arkansas at 3 p.m. Monday in the second round of the double-elimination eight-team tournament. Southern Arkansas beat No. 6 Rollins Saturday 3-1.

The winner of Monday’s contest earns two days off and will be just one win away from the tournament’s championship series, while the loser plays again on Wednesday and must capture three in a row to advance.  

The Prairie Stars (48-10), scored their only run of the game in the first inning after three singles, but Halligan induced a 6-3 double play to end the threat and didn’t allow a run for the rest of the game.

The Sea Lions, though, quickly staked him to a lead.

Kemp got his first of his two singles in the bottom of the first and Scott Anderson followed with a single to center. Halligan, also the DH, helped himself with a single up the middle, driving in Kemp.

Hunter Otjen made it four singles in a row to score Anderson and give PLNU their first lead of the game. Jakob Christian hit into a double play, but Halligan scored for the 3-1 lead.
 
Anderson got his second of three hits in the game in the second inning after Kemp reached on a hit-by-pitch. Halligan drove Kemp home with a single as Kemp scored his 73rd run on the season, adding to his PacWest-record total.
 
Both starting pitchers settled in after the wild start as Halligan and Colton Hale each went six. Halligan also struck out four to push his total on the season to 115. He threw 113 pitches in the win while lowering his ERA to 2.20 on the season.

“It was awesome. I loved every moment of it,” Halligan said, according to a NCAA Division II tweet.

Veen entered the game in the seventh inning, and issued his third walk of the entire season while allowing two hits, but kept the opponents off the board. Hillier took over with one out in the eighth and quickly got a flyout and lineout in just six pitches.

The Sea Lions put the game out of reach in the bottom of the eighth as two walks, an error and two hit batters pushing a pair of runs across home plate for a 6-1 lead. Southern Indiana brought the infield in, but Kemp drove the ball back up the middle to bring in two more.
 
Hillier then returned to the mound in the ninth and induced the first two batters to ground out to Anderson at short, then he struck out the final batter swinging to secure the win.

It was the first win by PLNU in the school’s first appearance in the Division II tournament. The Sea Lions also logged the first win for a PacWest team at the national championships in nine years and the first ever in the winner’s bracket.