For the first time since 2000, the Loyola Marymount University baseball team is headed to the NCAA Playoffs, following an upset victory in the West Coast Conference Championships in Stockton last weekend.

Fourth in the WCC regular-season standings, the Lions (32-23) were a perfect 3-0 in the WCC Tournament, clinching the tournament and NCAA berth with a 4-2, 10-inning win over St. Mary’s at  Banner Island Ballpark on May 25.

In the championship affair, LMU needed to come back from a 2-1 deficit, tying the game on a sixth-inning sacrifice fly by Alex Lambeau to score Trevin Esquerra. After failing to score with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, LMU survived a line drive by the Gaels’ Austin Chauvin in the last of the ninth that came within inches of clearing the fence for a walkoff homerun.

But it went for a double, and on the next play first baseman Esquerra nailed Chauvin at third on an attempted sacrifice. Matt Voelker (five innings, no runs) retired the next two hitters, and the game continued into the tenth, when LMU broke through to score on Cooper Uhl’s two-run triple that plated Ryan Ruley and Ryan Kawano. Closer Nick Frasso pitched a 1-2-3 tenth, and LMU was on its way to the NCAAs.

The Lions got good pitching to win their first two games of the double-elimination tournament, starting May 23 with a complete game five-hitter by WCC Pitcher of the Year Codie Paiva to beat BYU, 4-1. Paiva struck out 11, walked just one and didn’t allow a run until the ninth, while Esquerra’s two-run homer in the fifth and run-scoring single in the seventh, plus an RBI single from Nick Sogard, provided the offense.

On May 24, the Lions rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat St. Mary’s 3-2 with a three-run sixth that featured RBI singles by Esquerra and Steven Chavez and a sacrifice fly from Lambeau. Josh Agnew and Frasso combined on a five-hit gem, though Frasso had to escape a ninth-inning threat that ended with a line-drive out.

Paiva was named the tournament’s outstanding player, and Esquerra, Sogard and Frasso made the All-Tournament team.

Coached by Jason Gill, LMU will not have far to travel for its first round game, part of the Los Angeles Regional (one of 16 in the 64-team tournament). The third-seeded Lions head to Westwood to play second-seeded Baylor (34-17) on May 31, 1 p.m., followed by No. 1 UCLA against No. 4 Omaha.

The Regional continues June 1 and 2, with the possibility of a winner-take-all final on June 3. The winner advances to the next round of play, culminating in the College World Series in Omaha. LMU’s last trip to the CWS was in 1986.

Mike Nelson is the former editor of The Tidings (predecessor of Angelus News). 

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