CARY, N.C. — Considering he had never pitched in the Division II College World Series before, Grand Valley State (Mich.) redshirt freshman righthander Patrick Kelly already had plenty of reason to be nervous.
It certainly didn’t help that it was also Elimination Wednesday.
The pressure brought on by the day’s two loser’s bracket games brought out the best in some, like Kelly, who shook off his early nerves to throw seven strong innings for a win in game one. And it brought out the worst in others, like the Franklin Pierce (N.H.) batters, who coach Jayson King said came out tentative against Kelly and couldn’t recover.
The Lakers wound up knocking off the Ravens 10-3 in Wednesday’s first game, while St. Edward’s (Texas) eliminated Grand Canyon (Ariz.) 9-5 to pare the tournament pool down to just four teams.
Grand Valley State and St. Edward’s will go on to play Tampa and Minnesota State-Mankato, respectively, on Thursday — both of which are undefeated in the tournament.
“Any time you can win a game down here of this magnitude on a national scale, it’s a blessing,” Grand Valley State coach Jamie Detillion said after the Lakers’ win. “Pat pitched his butt off today. Gave us a chance to win as he has all year long, threw strikes, kept us in the game. It’s what he does best.”
Kelly’s outing could’ve very easily turned sour in the third inning when he gave up three runs on three hits to the Ravens, allowing them to claw back after falling behind 1-0 early.
But after a calming mound visit, Kelly stranded a runner on second and went on to pitch four more scoreless innings.
The Lakers exploded for five runs in the next inning, establishing a lead they would never relinquish as the Ravens failed to cross the plate again.
“I was leaving the ball up a little a bit in the first couple of innings — that probably came with the nerves,” Kelly said “And then once I started working down, I started getting more flyouts, groundballs and just kind of got built up in the game.”
While Wednesday’s first game ended in a lopsided 10-3 blowout, St. Edward’s and Grand Canyon spent the nightcap engaged in a tension-filled struggle.
After scoring just four runs combined in their first two games, the Hilltoppers got the ball rolling early, putting up eight hits and a quick 7-0 lead in the first two innings as all nine batters reached base at least once.
It was an imposing lead, but it didn’t necessarily spell the end for Grand Canyon.
“It let us relax a little bit,” St. Edward’s coach Rob Penders said. “Maybe it let us relax a little too much and let them back in the game. Those guys never quit fighting. They came back. We knew they would.”
After Grand Canyon starter Coley Bruns was chased after one inning, righthander Trent Wilson came in and provided stability out of the bullpen, tossing four innings of one-run ball. In the process, the Antelope offense chipped away at St. Edward’s lead, scoring runs in the fourth and fifth and putting up a three-spot in the seventh.
“College is such a momentum game,” said Grand Canyon left fielder Brandon Smith, who drove in two runs Wednesday. “Once we got that I was pretty confident that we’ll hopefully fulfill what they did or pass that. We competed to the end.”
In the end, though, it wasn’t enough, and the Antelopes were sent packing along with Franklin Pierce.