Cinderella Wolves win Super Regional

Published 5:00 am Monday, May 23, 2005

ST. CATHARINE, Ky. — Unbelievable!

The Copiah-Lincoln Community College Wolves added anotherchapter to their remarkable Cinderella story Saturday in thechampionship finals of the NJCAA Southeast Super Regional. With twobatters retired and just one strike away from defeat, the Wolvesrallied for 3 runs in the top of the ninth inning and escaped theSt. Catharine Patriots 8-7 in a mind-boggling finish atEdelon-Heydon Park.

The Wolves (30-26-1) advance to the NJCAA Division II WorldSeries at Millington, Tenn. Their first game is Saturday afternoonat 3 p.m., in USA Stadium. This is Coach Keith Case’s second tripto the World Series, the last time in 2000.

The Patriots (38-10), heart-broken by the last-inning defeat,also lost in the regional finals last year.

Co-Lin catcher Matthew Schexnayder provided the game-winning RBIafter teammate Garrett Jones had overcome a 2-out, 2-strike countto drive in 2 runs and tie the score. Patrick Williams was hit by apitch and Jody Britt drew a walk off relief pitcher Josh Lueke.That set the stage for Jones who delivered a 2-RBI single up themiddle.

“This is everybody’s baseball dream,” said Schexnayder, afreshman from Houma, La. “There’s no better feeling. We are allfighters on this team. We may not have the most talent but we havethe most heart.”

St. Catharine had broken a 5-5 deadlock with 2 runs in thebottom of the eighth. The Patriots began celebrating their apparentjourney to the World Series.

Instead, the Wolves bounced back and regained the lead. PitcherRyan Belanger hurled the bottom of the ninth, after striking out 17in a Friday win over Itawamba. He fanned 2 of the 3 batters hefaced.

“Ryan would have whipped anybody to get on the mound in theninth,” said Case. “He’s a competitor.”

Belanger said he was praying for the opportunity. “I said aprayer, ‘Please God, give me one run (lead) and I’ll close thedoor.'”

In a tight, see-saw battle, the Wolves took a 2-0 lead in thetop of the first. Xavier Qualls singled and Jody Britt followedwith a 2-run homer over the left field fence off Patriot starterWatson Jones.

The Pats came back strong with 3 runs in the bottom of thesecond off Co-Lin starter Scotty Smith. The big blow was a 2-rundouble by Josh Beale.

In the third, Britt delivered an RBI single past shortstop totie the score at 3-3. The Wolves went up 4-3 when relief pitcherBrad Warner issued a bases-loaded walk, scoring Smith who hadsingled.

The hosts tied it again in the fourth at 4-4.

Co-Lin regained the lead at 5-4 in the sixth as Logan scored offan error. Still in the sixth, a grounder by Shane Simpkins sentBeale home with the tying run.

“It was a boxing match,” said St. Catharine coach LutherBramlett, wiping a tear from his cheek after the game. “Both teamsbattled. We were one strike away from winning.

“I knew we would have trouble with Belanger if he ever got onthe mound,” added Bramlett. “He’s a warrior.”

Smith was replaced in the eighth by Derek Thompson who had wonThursday’s opener against Lenoir (N.C.). The Patriots rallied for 2runs with 2 away to take the lead.

“I had a really off day,” said Smith, “but I tried to get usthrough to our bullpen. I knew if we could get Belanger out there,he would pull us through.”

Co-Lin first baseman Ben Sandifer sat in the third base dugoutafter the game, savoring the triumph. He had difficulty describinghis feelings.

“I’m speechless,” said Sandifer. “I knew we could come back.Garrett stepped up for us.”

Jones said he was happy to furnish the 2-run, 2-out single inthe ninth. “I was just trying to put the bat on the ball. Luckily,it went through the middle. I had tons of adrenaline flowing.

“Nobody thought we would ever get this far,” added Jones.

Logan agreed. “This is unreal. It hasn’t sunk in yet. Comingback from two outs and two strikes. You never know.”

Britt, who had 3 hits and 3 RBIs, agreed. “It’s unreal. It’shard to believe we did it.”