LIMA, OH – The Royals continue their impressive second season with a berth in their NAIA Opening Round Championship game after knocking off their host, top-seeded and No. 7-ranked University of Northwestern Ohio. The (RV) Royals trailed early before erupting late with a pair of multi-run innings to clinch their spot in the Championship game.
George Castillo pitched six innings for the Royals and allowed all seven of the Racers' runs on 12 hits and a walk while striking out two. Many of Castillo's hits were hard infield singles that the Racers beat out on the base path, but the Racers did get ahold of him twice for a pair of home runs. Brandon Conlin would enter with a one-run lead and pitched the final three innings to earn his third save at HIU – Conlin was in the rare position of being able to give up nine runs without blowing the save, by virtue of pitching three full innings and entering with just a one-run lead.
The early innings did not go the Royals' way after early singles gave UNOH a 1-0 lead in the first. The Racers added two more in the third inning to take a 3-0 lead after a two-run shot to straightaway center, but the Royals were finally able to answer in the bottom of the frame.
Cameron Baranek came to the plate with two out in the inning and launched a double into right field to get aboard before Brett Thompson followed with a clutch single to the same side for an RBI to make it 3-1 after three frames.
The Racers would add two more in both the fifth and sixth frames to lead by five entering the bottom of the sixth. Devan Schermerhorn wore a pitch as a pinch hitter and would score on a sacrifice fly in the fifth for the Royals' second tally.
HIU scored six runs in the sixth – all with two outs – to take the lead for good against their hosts. Will Davis singled and took second on a bobble by the left fielder before a bang-bang play at first turned into an infield single for Sean David Clark. Nolan Kraemer plunked an RBI single through the right side to plate Davis and Schermerhorn paired with Jose Tejeda for back-to-back walks that loaded the bases and forced home a run. After a pitching change Baranek came up big for the Royals with his 13th home run of the season and his first career grand slam to give the Royals the lead for good – Baranek plated the winning run personally after jogging in from third to complete the home run trot.
Conlin and the HIU defenders shut down an otherwise prolific UNOH offense in front of a stunned home crowd for the next three innings and the Royals plated nine runs in the eighth for some added insurance.
The Racers started the inning with a strikeout before bringing a hard-throwing lefty in to face the Royals' first three in the lineup – all lefty-lefty matchups – but the gambit failed. Baranek singled, Thompson walked, and Brandon Gonzalez singled to plate Baranek before a pair of wild pitches and an intentional walk brought in the third arm of the inning for UNOH.
The Racers' new pitcher faced five Royals while recording only one out as Davis, Clark, Kraemer, and Tejeda all reached base safely. Baranek wore a pitch in his second appearance of the inning, Thompson ripped a two-RBI double, and the Royals romped their way to a 17-7 lead after what initially looked like a one-run inning turned into a total collapse by the Racers' bullpen. Baranek made two leaping catches at the wall and Gonzalez collected the final flyout to end the game.
"We swung the bat really well today, no two ways about that – they threw some quality arms at us and it took a while to get adjusted but Cam's [grand slam] gave us something to build off of," Coach Erich Pfohl said after the game. "I thought George threw well even as they found ways to get a couple hits off him, and Conlin was outstanding, but our defense was phenomenal today…We executed a quality baseball game today and hopefully we have one more in us tomorrow here on the road!"
The Royals have stormed through their second season and now find themselves in an Opening Round Bracket Championship game with a chance to punch their ticket to Lewiston on the road to the NAIA World Series. HIU needs only one more win to complete the feat and will face the winner of UNOH vs. Middle Georgia State, both teams that HIU has previously beaten in the Lima Bracket. The game is tentatively scheduled for 12:00 pm PT and will be available live at the links listed on our website at hiuroyals.com.