Carey Crusaders win first game at NAIA National Baseball Championships

William Carey Crusaders
William Carey Crusaders(William Carey University)
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 2:28 PM CDT
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William Carey Sports Information

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - Coldly efficient would be a good way to describe the play of William Carey University Monday night in its debut in the NAIA National Baseball Championships.

The Crusaders did just about everything right in a clinical 7-0 victory over the University of Houston at Victoria in the Hattiesburg Opening Round Regional at Milton Wheeler Field, moving one step closer to the NAIA World Series.

WCU (45-9), ranked eighth in the nation in NAIA, advanced to a winner’s bracket game against Ave Maria (Fla.) at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. UHV (27-26), which defeated Union (Ky.) 10-7 in Monday’s first game, will face Texas Wesleyan at 5 p.m. Tuesday in an elimination game.

“Any time you get a pitching performance like that, it makes it easier to play well, and that’s what happened tonight,” said Carey Head Coach Bobby Halford. “It was a good team effort, and I was really proud of the way we played.”

Junior right-hander Andrew Shirah showed why he was named the Southern States Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year with a vintage performance on the mound for the Crusaders.

“He pitched similarly against Mobile a few weeks ago, and that was one of the reasons we didn’t push those guys early in the (SSAC) tournament last week,” Halford said. “We wanted to give them their full rest because, for about three weeks, they were throwing on short rest because of rain. So, he was more rested tonight.”

Shirah (10-1) overcame some early control issues to dominate the Jaguars, pitching a three-hit, complete-game shutout. He struck out eight and allowed four walks, three coming in each of the first three innings.

“The first inning, I came out a little bit amped, a little bit a lot overthrowing,” said Shirah. “I was pulling my front shoulder on my wind-up, but whenever I got to the stretch, it helped me stay down in the mound more, and I started throwing strikes. Eventually, I got back to working out the wind-up and found the zone.”

A leadoff walk to open the game was erased on a nifty double play by second baseman Rigoberto Hernandez in the first inning, then got a pair of strikeouts when Victoria put runners on second and third with one out.

But after allowing an infield single and a walk with two out in the third, Shirah retired the next 11 batters he faced and 14 of 15 until a two-out mini-rally in the eighth.

“Today was heavy, heavy fastballs-slider mix,” said Shirah. “They had a lot of righties in the lineup, which kind of surprised me. I usually face a lot of lefties.

“So whenever you have the fastball sinking into the right-handers on the hands and the slider breaking away from them, it’s tough for them to see what’s coming. My arm felt lively today. It was just one of those days.”

The Crusaders went right to work offensively off UHV freshman left-hander Brady Parker (7-4), and they made the most of nine hits for the game.

”We had some big hits from (junior) Brady Wilson,” said Halford. “He was in a bit of a slump a few weeks ago, but he played really well today. Of course, Rigoberto stole a couple of big bases for us in some key situations.

“What was good to see was guys through the lineup coming through with big hits to give us some help with the guys we normally count on. And we hit some balls hard too.”

Carey struck for all the runs Shirah would need in the bottom of the second inning, scoring two runs.

With one out, Hernandez was hit by a pitch and raced to third on a single by junior Brady Wilson. Then, junior Braydon Coffey hit a high chopper in front of the plate that Parker was unable to field for a run-scoring single. Followed by, Junior R.J. Stinson making it 2-0 with a single to left field.

It was Hernandez and Wilson who teamed up for a run in the fourth. Hernandez drew a leadoff walk, and Wilson smacked a double into the gap in right-centerfield. Hernandez was running on the pitch and came around to score easily from first.

Wilson has been splitting time with senior Caleb Laird at third base, but he got the start and made the most of it, going 3 for 4 with three runs-batted-in.

“This morning, I wasn’t sure if I was going to play today,” said Wilson. “But I was reading my Bible, and God put a verse in front of me that really spoke to me. I think it carried me today.”

Wilson also delivered the decisive blow in the fifth, driving in two runs with a single after the Crusaders loaded the bases on two walks and an error.

Parker was able to get junior Preston Ratliff to ground into a force at the plate, then got a strikeout and two quick strikes on Wilson before the single to right field.

“First pitch in the box, the pitcher tried to quick-pitch me,” said Wilson. “That’s one of those things that just eats me alive. I can’t stand that. As soon as he did that, I knew I was going to get a hit, no matter what he threw me.

“I wanted to get those runs home. This was the biggest game of our lives. I decided when I woke up this morning that I wanted to go to Idaho, and I was going to do my part to get there.”

Carey added a run in the sixth on a leadoff double by junior Kris Jones and an RBI double by senior Bobby Lada. The Crusaders made it 7-0 in the eighth without a hit on a pair of hit batters to leadoff and two flyballs; the second a sacrifice fly off the bat of Lada.

Shirah’s pitch count after eight innings was a manageable 114, so the decision to send him back out for the ninth was a no-brainer, and he needed just 13 pitches to retire the Jaguars in order.

“I was begging them to let me go (for the ninth),” said Shirah. “I’ve always wanted to complete a nine-inning game because I’d never done it before. I knew going out there and getting this first win was big, so I wanted to get it myself.”

Parker pitched decently for Houston-Victoria, going six innings, striking out eight and walking three.

Ave Maria (35-16) savaged Texas Wesleyan 20-8 in a game that featured a nearly three-hour weather delay. The tournament winner advances to the NAIA World Series at Lewiston, Idaho beginning May 26.

“We don’t want to get too high or low,” said Halford. “Just take it one game at a time.”

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