Copyright of The Lewiston Morning Tribune
As with the previous 58 games, Lewis-Clark State's regular-season finale was a dress rehearsal for the NAIA World Series. And by this windy Wednesday evening, the Warriors were down to planning out the most intricate details.
For example: This Series' pitching hero -- if one is needed -- will likely be Carlos Fisher.
With a 9-2 bashing of Washington State at Harris Field, LCSC wrapped the regular season in fitting style. The Warriors will charge into the Series with a 51-8 record, having won 23 of their final 24 games.
The national tournament gets going May 28, and L-C will probably be favored to capture the program's 14th championship.
If the Warriors could bottle their performance against the Cougars (26-23), the Series would be little more than a formality. Fisher tore through a complete-game six-hitter, the batters made timely breakthroughs and the defense uncovered a few gems.
"If we put all that together," Tyler Best said, "there's no shot of stopping us coming into the next four, five, six games we're going to play in the World Series."
With a 131-pitch tome, Fisher seemed to claim the mantle left by Andy Torres and Marc Kaiser -- pitchers who lugged the L-C staff through the last two Series.
The right-handed junior limited WSU to six hits and one earned run. He struck out five and walked four.
But most importantly, he was resilient. Fisher opened the game by giving up a single to Kaeo Rubin and a walk to Jay Miller. That brought L-C pitching coach Gary Picone out for a visit.
Fisher then righted himself. With the help of a double play, he got out of the first unscathed. He then held the Cougars without a hit until the sixth.
Over the last month, Fisher has developed a hard slider that complements his blazing fastball well.
"The addition of the slider has just changed the whole thing," Picone said. "It's hard. It's probably in the low 80s, so there's not much time to adjust."
While this was reminiscent of the landmark Series performances turned in by Torres and Kaiser, LCSC doesn't necessarily want Fisher to fall into that workhorse role.
"The Torres-Kaiser comparison, I think it's a circumstance rather than a plan," Picone said. "... We've had some awful good guys who didn't have to go out and do what those guys did because the team won every game (in the Series)."
The one bit of bad news for L-C was the end of Justin Fuller's school-record hit streak. His 0-for-4 performance ended the string at 30 -- which, incidentally, is his jersey number.
"I didn't really think about it too much," said the junior second baseman. "I just go up there and try to do the same thing every game. Today, I guess I didn't bring the 'A' game."
But Fuller's adroit fielding was on display. Maybe the highlight of the evening was his putout in the fifth.
To lead off the inning, WSU's Justin Hart bonked a bounding shot between first and second. Fuller, ranging to his left and onto the outfield grass, gloved the ball. As he brought it up, it popped out of his glove and into the air. But Fuller snatched it with his bare hand and gunned out Hart at first.
It happened so quickly that Fuller almost appeared to flip the ball out of his glove on purpose.
"That's what (right fielder Allen) Balmer was saying behind me; he asked me if I did it on purpose," Fuller said. "I was just trying to pick it and it popped out, so I reacted."
Almost as if to answer Fuller's play, Balmer made a lunging catch near the foul line to end the fifth.
Best, L-C's senior catcher, supplied the offensive fireworks, smashing his 14th and 15th homers in his first two at-bats. He went 3-for-5 with three RBI.
And he also summed up the Warriors' mission during their week before the Series: "This is kind of the time when we start to piece everything together. ... This is where we tie the strings on the little present and hand it away to whatever team we're going to face."