Heading into the 2013 Avista-NAIA Baseball World Series, Lewis-Clark State College coach Jeremiah Robbins is preaching continuity and focus, even as the lights get brighter and the stage gets bigger.
The Lewis-Clark Valley and Harris Field will play host to the top 10 teams in the NAIA for the national baseball championship running from May 24-31, an event that will have an increased level of television exposure than in years past.
The Spokane network SWX, which provides local sports coverage for North Idaho and Eastern Washington, will carry LCSC’s first game (against 2012 runner-up Rogers State) on Friday, May 24 at 7:05 p.m. in addition to the championship game on Thursday, May 30. If an additional championship game is needed on Friday, May 31, it will be shown live on SWX as well.
SWX can be seen on channel 466 through CableOne in Lewiston, on channel 306 through Time Warner cable in Moscow, and over-the-air throughout Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, the Tri-Cities and Yakima.
“Obviously this is a very exciting time for our guys,” Robbins said. “I’ve had experience at the NCAA Division II level, and the amount of exposure for this event is way beyond anything I’ve seen with the possible exception of Division I baseball. With the honorary coaches, all the media and stuff, it’s been a neat experience for our guys. No matter if you leave this thing two-and-out or as the champion, it’s going to be a great experience for all of these student-athletes. I continue to be awestruck about the way that this community gives of its time to make it such a great event.”
As the host team for the NAIA World Series, the Warriors did not have to play in an Opening Round bracket and thus have not taken the field since May 5.
Robbins said that the 19-day layoff between the end of the regular season and the beginning of the Series could be a positive for the Warriors.
“We had a little bit of down time between the last times we’ve played, but the guys have been busy with finals and we have two guys graduating. It’s nice to be able to pull away from that a little bit and be doing things away from baseball,” he said. “We’ve been busy doing intra-squad stuff, and like we have since the very first day, we’ve been taking every day as a way to get better. We’re in a little bit of a different position because we’ve known since the very beginning that this is where we were going to be. You can’t overhype it because we knew already.”
The time off has also provided rest and recuperation to the LCSC players battling late-season injuries, and Robbins said that that respite has been invaluable in his quest to get his team near 100 percent for May 24.
“We know our health is going to be very important to our success. It seemed like every week we played, someone would go down, so it’s been great to have the time. We want to stay sharp, but our guys have made huge strides in getting healthy thanks to (LCSC athletic trainer) Tracy Collins and her staff. It’s phenomenal what our guys have available to them.”
In particular, junior infielder/pitcher Ryan Sells (foot) and junior pitcher Garrett Wilson (shoulder) have missed significant time toward the end of the season and are hoping to return for the World Series. The nearly three weeks off has helped in that effort.
The Warriors will need to be at their best from the outset. Lewis-Clark State faces off against a white-hot Rogers State team to begin its road through the Avista-NAIA Baseball World Series.
Rogers State rebounded from a late-season swoon to come alive in the Opening Round. After being bounced out of the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament in two games, the Hillcats won all four of their games in the Opening Round they hosted to get to Lewiston.
Rogers State, located in Claremore, Okla., defeated Midland (Neb.), Lyon (Ark.) and top-seeded Lubbock Christian twice to advance to the Series.
The Hillcats went 35-22 overall and 15-13 in SAC play during the regular season. Offensively, Rogers State is hitting .302 as a team and are led by senior left fielder Colton Campbell (.415, 3 homers, 51 RBI), junior shortstop Jose Olazagasti (.347, 3 homers, 38 RBI) and senior third baseman Tyler Wheeler (.331, 1 homer, 35 RBI).
On the mound, the Hillcats have a team earned run average of 3.65, and get a lot of mileage out of starting pitchers Shawn Spainhoward and Brandon Bargas.
Spainhoward and Bargas are both senior left-handers, and Bargas has served as RSU’s designated hitter in the second half of the season.
Spainhoward (8-4, 1.94 ERA) and Bargas (8-5, 2.55 ERA) have each thrown eight complete games and worked over 80 innings this season.
The Hillcats have just six saves on the season, with three for T.J. Law and two for Mason Marquette.
“The number one thing is that they’re very well-coached,” Robbins said of Rogers State and skipper Ron Bradley. “They’ve done a phenomenal job with that team and (Bradley) has proven that by being the runner-up last year. They return a lot of the main pieces from that team and have two or three very good arms. We’ll have our work cut out for us and we have to play our best baseball every game this time of year.”
Lewis-Clark State, which finished 41-13 and 22-6 in the Frontier Conference, was led offensively by junior infielder Brady Steiger, junior right fielder Cody Lavalli, senior catcher Kyle Blackwell and senior shortstop Bobby Joe Tannehill.
Steiger, whose .431 batting average is third in the NAIA, also led the Warriors in runs, hits, doubles and walks.
Lavalli paced the squad with nine home runs and 49 RBI.
Blackwell and Tannehill were both second-half stars for the Warriors. Blackwell hit .392 with 10 of his 18 RBI in April and May, while Tannehill hit .324 with eight homers and 34 RBI, going 17 for his last 34 at bats for a .500 average in his final seven games.
On the mound, senior left-hander Anthony Armanino went 9-3 with a 3.52 ERA in 13 starts for Lewis-Clark State, with junior right-handers Carsen Nylund (6-1, 3.52) and Steve Thompson (4-5, 2.44), and senior righty Seth Haehl (3-1, 2.05) making up the rest of the Warriors’ starting rotation for the second half of the season.
Wilson was 6-0 with a 0.87 ERA in seven starts, but missed the final two months of the season with the injury. Adding him to the rotation for the NAIA World Series would only augment the Warriors’ pitching arsenal.
In the bullpen, the Warriors look to junior right-handers Sal Arena (1-3, 3.72, 6 saves) and David Murillo (4-0, 2.80, 4 saves) to close out opponents.
Robbins feels that the key for his team during the Avista-NAIA Baseball World Series will be to maintain composure through inevitable adversity.
“The most important thing for us is not to panic,” he said. “There’s going to be ups and downs. We’re going to have bad at-bats and kick a ball or two, but we’ve got to stay within ourselves and stay within our dugout. There are going to be times where guys are going to have to step up: that’s just the reality of baseball. We have to limit errors, because a game can get away from you very quickly.”
Robbins is also preaching to his players not to change anything about their approach.
“We don’t want to change the game. Just because it’s the World Series, the mound isn’t any farther away and the bases aren’t any closer together. It’s a little different for a lot of our guys, and they’re going to be antsy, anxious and nervous but that’s all good. It shows you’re alive. Obviously this is a very exciting time for our guys, especially having the kind of community support for this event that we have. It’s a really neat deal for everyone involved,” he said.
The Warriors' postseason roster: