Fire claim 2018 Avista-NAIA World Series

LEWISTON, Idaho—A team that started the 2018 season red hot finished it in the same manner.

The team that won its first 21 contests won its last eight, concluding the year with a 6-3 victory over Freed-Hardeman University to win the Avista-NAIA World Series.

The national championship is the first NAIA title by a Fire squad since joining the association in the fall of 2009.

“This is what we set up to do back in the fall. A lot of work by the coaching staff went into recruiting. These guys put in a lot of work on the field, in the weight room, and in the classroom. To have it all come to fruition is a simply unbelievable feeling,” shared head coach Adrian Dinkel.

The Fire went a perfect 8-0 in its NAIA National Tournament stay, defeating four former national champions along the way.

Southeastern (59-7) was making its first World Series appearance, and needed to shake off some early nerves as fellow first-timer Freed-Hardeman took a 1-0 lead in the first.

The Fire bats finally broke through in the top of the fourth, plating five runs, taking advantage of a pair of defensive miscues and two walks.

SEU sent 10 to the dish that inning, getting their first run on Dan Valerio’s single to left field, which scored Marvin Malone and Nick Bottari. The hit brought Valerio to 84 RBIs on the season. A perfectly placed bunt by Marcus Stump loaded the bases for Keiner Colmenarez, who walked as did Adam De La Cruz to add two more.

Manuel Mesa grounded back to the pitcher in the next at bat and reached on a fielder’s choice, as Freed-Hardeman tried to erase Vince Volpatti at the plate, but the throw home was mishandled by the FHU catcher. Mesa finished the game 1-for-5, picking up his 27th double of the season in the top of the ninth.

Mesa was named Most Valuable Player of the World Series, leading the tournament in hits with 13, runs scored (8), doubles (6), and total bases (21). The center fielder was also selected as the Charles Berry Hustle Award winner.

“I’ve never gotten something like this before but I did it and I worked hard for my team. I feel like I’m a part of a family here and I’ve never felt that way anywhere,” commented Mesa.

That’s all the support Jimenez needed to pick up his third win of the season. The Lawton, Okla. native shook off a sluggish start, which saw him give up a run on three hits in the first inning, but bounced back to retire eight straight hitters. He left the game in the sixth inning, after allowing two runs on five hits, and struck out seven of the 21 hitters he faced.

“I got into trouble early when I was trying to show off my fastball. I was able to work in my secondary pitches and settle in,” remarked Jimenez.

It was the just the third start and 16th appearance of the season for Jimenez, who hadn’t seen the mound since getting the save on April 24th at Edward Waters.

Freed-Hardeman (47-16) picked up two runs in the bottom of the sixth on Josh Sears’ second home run of the tournament, and 21st of the season. De’Mikyle Holmes also went deep to left field off of Braeden Holub in the next at bad to cut the deficit to 5-3.

Holub bounced back with a 1-2-3 seventh, needing just seven pitches in the frame. In relief, the Texan allowed just the solo home run in 2.2 innings.

In the bottom of the inning, Ivan Nunez’s seventh homer and 50th RBI of the season gave the Fire a three-run advantage.

“He was throwing curveballs all game. He threw me a hanging slider and I was able to take him deep,” recalled Nunez.

Heibert Romero recorded his team-best seventh save of the season, retiring the three hitters he faced in the ninth.

Dominic Anagnos, Nunez, and Valerio each had two hits in the game.

“To be able to come out here and win this as a true family is an unbelievable feeling,” remarked Valerio.

Marvin Malone, Jonathan Bermudez, and Nunez all joined Mesa on the All-Tournament Team.

The Fire became the 34th different team to win the World Series in the 62 year history of the tournament, and the first from the State of Florida.