May 28, 2009

CARY, N.C. - Kellen Lane's first collegiate home run, a walk-off two-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth advanced Emporia State to the national championship game for the first time in school history as the nationally third-ranked Hornets defeated No. 1 UC San Diego 5-3 in the semifinal round of the 2009 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals Thursday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Emporia State saw a two-run lead disappear in the late innings before Lane's heroics.

Emporia State plays Saturday at noon against either Lynn or Belmont Abbey, who play in the other semifinal. UC San Diego is eliminated after posting a 2-2 mark at the National Finals.

UC San Diego tied the game 3-3 in the top of the eighth and had a runner on first with one out in the ninth. Emporia State reliever Diego Soto induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning. Soto (6-2) is 1-0 with two saves in three appearances in the National Finals.

Kevin Wempe drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the ninth and went to third on Caleb Williamson's single to center. Williamson tried to advance to second on the throw to third, but got caught in a rundown for the second out. After UC San Diego's second pitching change of the game, Lane drove an 0-1 pitch over the right field fence just in front of the scoreboard to end the game.

Emporia State (49-13) had a chance to take the first lead of the game, but UC San Diego starting pitcher Kirby St. John helped himself defensively in the bottom of the first after giving up a leadoff double to Connor Crumbliss. St. John threw Crumbliss out at third on a sacrifice attempt, then got the lead runner out at second on a slow roller to the mound.

UC San Diego (41-15) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second as Brandon Gregorich drew a leadoff walk and advanced to third on a pair of groundouts. Matt Cantele singled to left center to drive in Gregorich and Kellen Lee followed with a double down the right field line. But Emporia State starting pitcher Colby Killian ended the threat on a groundout to short.

The run was the first allowed in the National Finals by Killian, who tossed seven scoreless innings in Saturday's first round win over Grand Valley State.

Emporia State had an opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the second, but UC San Diego produced another key defensive play. Anthony Dreiling singled with one out and Andy Cotton drove a two-out double to the wall down the left field line. Dreiling was waved around third, but Garrett Imeson's relay from left fielder Evan Kehoe beat Dreiling by two full steps and Lee put the tag on to prevent the run. Imeson rotated from his second base position to the outfield grass behind third base.

UC San Diego had two baserunners in the top of the third, but Emporia State catcher Lee threw both runners out attempting to steal.

Miscues in the bottom of the third led to Emporia State's first run of the ballgame after Crumbliss hit a leadoff single for his second hit of the game. Kevin Wempe hit a ground ball to the right side, but Imeson committed UC San Diego's first error of the National Finals, allowing Crumbliss to advance to third. Crumbliss scored and Wempe advanced to second when St. John was called for a balk to even the game at 1-1.

The error ended the Tritons' streak of 47 2/3 consecutive innings (204 chances) without an error. The last error committed by UC San Diego was in the ninth inning of its first round game in the West Regional.

Emporia State took its first lead of the game in the bottom of the fourth as Mike Sharp was hit by a pitch and advanced to third on a wild pitch and a groundout. Sharp came home on Cotton's single through the right side to give the Hornets a 2-1 lead.

Defense continued to be the theme in the top of the fifth after UC San Diego put runners on first and second. Josh Tanner lifted a fly ball to shallow center field, but Crumbliss dove for the ball and maintained possession with half of the ball sticking out of the glove.

The Hornets added to their lead in the bottom of the fifth, but not until after another defensive gem by UC San Diego. After a walk to Wempe and a single by Kenny Burkhead put runners on first and second with nobody out, first round starter Tim Shibuya took over on the mound. After Shibuya started with a strikeout, Kellen Lane followed with a single up the middle. Wempe was waved around third, but Triton centerfielder Robert Sedin threw Wempe out home.

With two outs, Sharp drove the first pitch up the middle for a base hit. Despite having had two runners thrown out at the plate in the game, Burkhead was waved home. Sedin's throw was up the line and Burkhead avoided the tag to extend Emporia State's lead to 3-1.

UC San Diego answered in the top of the sixth as Imeson drew a leadoff walk and Kehoe singled with one out. Imeson advanced to third on a force at second as Sedin beat the throw to first to prevent the double play and keep the inning alive. Cantele followed with a single through the right side to drive in Imeson and pull the Tritons within a run.

A defensive miscue in the top of the eighth allowed UC San Diego to tie the game after Sedin singled with one out and Cantele drew a four-pitch walk. Soto took over on the mound, becoming the Hornets' fourth pitcher of the game and third of the inning.

Soto struck out the first batter he faced, but Sedin and Cantele advanced on stolen bases on successive pitches. Sedin came home on a passed ball to tie the game 3-3.

But Lane ended the game in the bottom of the ninth, sending Emporia State players and fans into a frenzy. The win improved the Hornets to 43-1 this season when leading after six innings.

The start of the game was delayed by nearly two hours due to rain and lightning. The game was completed without interruption, but more weather issues forced the delay of Thursday's second game between Lynn and Belmont Abbey. (The start of the game was still in a weather delay as of 9:40 p.m.)

A Lynn victory over Belmont Abbey puts Lynn in the championship game against Emporia State. Belmont Abbey needs to beat Lynn twice to advance.