DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In the title game of the NAIA National Championship Opening Round's Daytona Beach Bracket on Thursday, the No. 1-seeded Southern Polytechnic State University baseball team shut out the second-seeded Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Fla.) Eagles, 8-0, at Sliwa Stadium. Southern Polytechnic, ranked No. 9 nationally, advances to the 58th annual Avista-NAIA World Series while Embry-Riddle, rated 15th, had its season end.
"It seems like just about every big game we've had this year we've had to use our whole bench just to win a game," Southern Poly second-year head coach Marty Lovrich said. "If you go back and look at this game, I think I only had one or two position players left. It was just a total team effort.
"It's pretty well known around the NAIA that this is one of the toughest venues to win at."
ERAU was the NAIA national tournament first-round host of the Daytona Beach Bracket. The opening rounds took place from May 12 through Thursday at nine fields across the nation. Each site featured a five-team, double-elimination tournament with the winners joining host Lewis-Clark State College at the NAIA World Series from May 23-30 in Lewiston, Idaho.
Thursday's contest was scoreless until the Hornets picked up a run on the wild pitch in the top of the sixth inning. SPSU scored three times an inning later and increased the lead to 8-0 with four runs in the eighth. The Eagles had just one base runner reach second as Southern Poly recorded its seventh shutout win of the year.
SPSU had 13 hits to Embry-Riddle's three and there were no errors in the game. Southern Poly left nine runners on base and the hosts four.
Offensively for the Hornets, Matt Miller finished 3-for-4 with a double, a sacrifice hit and an RBI while Chris Dykes was 3-for-5 with a solo home run, a double and two runs scored. All-America candidate Khirus Ware went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs while Tyler Garner (hit-by-pitch, sacrifice bunt) and Sam Eure (walk) were each 1-for-3. Dalton Martinez (walk, RBI) and Darius Reese each got hit while Tyler Roach doubled.
Miller pitched a complete game for the victory, giving up three singles while striking out three and issuing just one walk. He threw 88 pitches, including 62 for strikes and retired 17 consecutive batters between the first and sixth innings.
"The key was obviously Matt Miller," Lovrich said. "Going into it and after watching him play several times, we knew he would go at them and make them swing the bat with not many walks or freebies.
SPSU moves to 45-17 overall while ERAU finishes 40-21. Southern Poly will be making its third appearance at the NAIA World Series after also qualifying for the event in 1986 and 2009. Ten teams of 189 NAIA baseball programs earn spots in the World Series.
"I think we've had an edge all year just by the fact of the consolidation (with Kennesaw State University)," Lovrich said. "I think that really inspired our kids all year. It was a motivational thing in that I think they wanted to finish this thing properly."
Lovrich, a long-time assistant coach at Auburn University at Montgomery, is going to the NAIA World Series for a fourth time. Auburn Montgomery went to the tournament in 1990, 1992 and 2006.