RIVERSIDE, Calif. --- At the start of the 2011 season, California Baptist University had dreams of getting back to Lewiston, Idaho, for the second straight season and take one final shot at an NAIA World Series title.
That dream vanished on a rocket Saturday.
Concordia's Bryan Nicholson launched three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to give the third-seed Eagles the lead for good in a 4-2 win over the top-seed Lancers in the championship game of the 2011 NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round-Riverside Bracket at Totman Stadium
The win clinches a World Series berth for the Eagles (38-18), who are a perfect 7-0 in the postseason and have now won 20 of their past 22 games.
"We were the better team over 36 games, but they were the better team this week," said CBU Head Coach Gary Adcock. "That's how it works in the postseason."
The loss ends the NAIA's third-ranked Lancers' final NAIA season at 43-16.
Nonetheless, this group of Lancers did something that no other team in program history has ever done, winning two straight GSAC regular-season titles and posting two-straight 40-win seasons.
Next year, the Lancers leave the NAIA as they transition to NCAA Division II.
"Not getting to the World Series is tough, especially when you're predicted to do so, but baseball doesn't guarantee anything," said Adcock. "They made diving play after diving play, their big hitter got the big hit, and we left runners in scoring position early. That's just baseball. It's a great game."
For six-plus innings, Jesse Arreola held the red-hot Eagles in check, keeping the Lancers in front with a 2-1 lead. He was one out away from getting into the eighth after getting Kyle Konicek to ground into a fielder's choice for the second out.
John Hill extended the inning with a two-out single. Up stepped Nicholson, who the Lancers elected to intentionally walk in two at-bats prior.
"We're not putting the winning run on second base in that situation," said Adcock. "It is what it is. Good hitters get good swings, and he got a big hit."
Arreola threw a perfect strike one pitch on the outer part of the plate, but Nicholson teed up the second pitch and sent it sailing over the right field fence.
Nicholson had all three game-winning hits in the tournament, hitting a two-RBI single in the eighth inning in Concordia's 4-3 win over the Lancers yesterday and hitting an RBI single against British Columbia in the Eagles' first game Thursday.
All three of Concordia's wins in this tournament were come-from-behind, and all three game-winning runs were scored in the seventh, eighth or ninth. It's been that kind of run for the Eagles.
"We left RBIs out there early and kept them in a position where they could hit that three-run homer, and they got it," said Adcock. "They're not in that position if we take care of some RBIs earlier in the game. This was a typical loss for us. When we lost, we didn't get the key RBI when we needed it."
Still, the Lancers had two chances. In the eighth, Brian Sharp hit a one-out single to end Brent Clapper's day. Jacob McBride hit Kevin Odom with a pitch, putting the tying run on with just one out. Josh Manzano then hit a laser that was snared by a diving Robbie Knowles at second, who recovered quickly enough to double off Odom at first.
In the ninth, Sharif Othman, playing in his 215th career game, hit a two-out double down the right field line. The Lancers' leading home run hitter Zach Esquerra, who finished his freshman campaign with 17 bombs, stepped to the plate as the tying run, but McBride struck him out to end the game and subsequently the Lancers' season.
"All you can ask is for the tying run to get to the plate in the ninth, and we had that," said Adcock. "I'll live with the strikeout, because Zach's been a big hitter for us this season, and he put a good swing on that first pitch. He was our best chance at tying the game at that moment."
Arreola (6-5) took the loss despite going seven strong innings. He scattered eight hits and struck out four.
"Holding Concordia, a team that has won 20-of-22, to just four runs in seven innings is a great start for Jesse," said Adcock. "He was very good today. Most people are going to look at that one pitch, but that wasn't the game. He gave us a good start and gave us a chance to win."
Clapper (8-4) went 7.1 innings, giving up two runs and striking out five, including punch outs to end the sixth and seventh. McBride worked 1.2 innings for his first save of the season.
CBU scored first when Drew Madrigal drew a two-out walk in the second. Cole Bullard then rocketed a ball to left center. Matt Ivanoff made a diving, over-the-shoulder attempt but couldn't come up with and Madrigal scored the game's first run.
Othman hit a booming solo shot to give the Lancers a 2-0 lead in the fifth. It was his 31st career homer, placing him third on the Lancers' career list. In his final collegiate game, Othman was 3-for-4.
"Most people don't know, but he played this entire tournament with an injury in his rib cage and couldn't throw," said Adcock. "He played this tournament on his reputation over the past few years. He's a returning All-American who by his standards struggled this year, but he had a great tournament despite playing hurt."
Othman was 6-for-13 with two homers in the four games this week.
Nicholson, Konicek and Hill all two hits each for the Eagles.
All eight games of the Riverside Bracket were decided by two runs or less.