CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The truly critical moment in Lee University's baseball game Monday in the NAIA Opening Series came two nights earlier, but Roberto Reyes provided another important one for the Flames in the fourth inning of their 8-5 win over Missouri Baptist.
The senior first baseman blasted a barely fair shot off the fence in left field for a three-run double that gave Lee a four-run lead, and he then scored to make it 7-2 when Corey Davis chopped a ball in front of the plate and Spartans catcher Todd Glime sailed a throw down the right-field line.
Flames ace Kris Hall, pitching on three days' rest, then yielded to the bullpen, and freshman Kyle Briner, senior Joe Fabre and fireballing sophomore Tennessee transfer Andy Hillis kept the Spartans in control.
Second-ranked Lee (54-9-1) now heads to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, for the sixth time in Mark Brew's six years as head coach. The Flames have finished in the top three the last four years.
They almost didn't make it back. Missouri Baptist edged them Friday with a three-run double, so Lee had to beat Avila -- which it did handily -- and then defeat the Spartans to force a winner-take-all game Monday. Saturday night, Lee trailed 3-0 after six innings, cut the gap to 3-1 in the seventh and scored three runs in their final at-bat to win 4-3.
"We were actually pretty confident going into the ninth," said Matt Passauer, who took over the pitching in the sixth Saturday night and retired the last 11 batters without allowing a hit or a walk. "We've had more come-from-behind wins than Coach Brew would have liked, but we know that as long as we keep getting the next man up, we can keep it going."
Brew acknowledged that being so close to going to Idaho and letting it slip away in the final inning Saturday had to weigh on the Spartans during the 40-hour wait for the deciding rematch, and Lee scored two unearned runs in the top of the first inning Monday.
Blake Barber singled with one out and Reyes reached on an error, and Corey Davis scored Barber with a sacrifice fly. Singles by Mike Moore and Trevor Burgess brought Reyes home.
The Spartans (39-16) got five hits in the second and third innings off Hall, however, including a double in each, and tied the score. And even after they did nothing against Briner in the fourth and fifth and Barber homered to put Lee up 8-2, the Spartans made a surge in the bottom of the sixth.
Kyle Turner and Scott Krutel singled and Kyle Hardy doubled them home with no outs, but Briner sandwiched two strikeouts around a groundout to keep the inning from ballooning.
Ryan Barban reached on a high throw with two outs in the seventh, and Turner blasted a shot past Reyes into the right-field corner to make it 8-5, but the Spartans went down 1-2-3 against Fabre in the eighth and likewise against Hillis in the ninth.
Barban, Turner and Riley each was 2-for-4 for Missouri Baptist. Davis was 2-for-4 and Barber was 2-for-5 for Lee. The latter is batting .416 but struck out on a masterful pitching job by Bunk Coronado with the bases loaded in the fourth and a run already on it after a walk, an Edmanuel Rivera double, a Cameron Brewster single and a hit batter. Coronado then got two quick strikes on Reyes but left the next pitch a little up.
"He threw me two very good pitches -- a slider on the outside and a fastball, two good ones -- and I just wanted to battle," Reyes said. "Fortunately I got the barrel on it, and fortunately it stayed fair."
That double got him to 82 RBIs for the season, 20 more than team runner-up Barber. He was moved up to third from fourth as part of Lee's lineup tweaking for the tournament, and Brew praised assistant coach Michael Moody for pitching decisions throughout.
Hall was ready to keep pitching but didn't argue the decision to take him out. Brew said they never planned for him to go more than "four or five" innings anyway.
"It's what's best for the team," Hall said. "They felt like they had better options in the pen, and they did. Three days' rest is something a lot of big-leaguers never do."
Brew noted that Hall's slider was not as sharp as usual, "but he did a good job battling. And then the freshman, Briner, did a good job the next couple of innings and pitched his way out of a jam in the sixth. That was a big job by him getting out of that."
Hillis had not pitched in a while and had been "dominant" at times this season, Brew said, yet had struggled with his control in stretches. "But he's been drafted before and he was the freshest arm we had, and he did a great job at the back end for us today. Coach Moody was great with all the staff moves.
"Missouri Baptist is a good team. That's one of the better teams we've ever played here," Brew added. "And they competed well."
Spartans coach Eddie Uschold said that "in the overall scheme of things, this doesn't mean very much, but it hurts right now.
"They're one of the best teams in the country, and we feel like we're one of the best teams in the country. And Saturday night we were three outs away," he said. "But things changed a little in that ninth inning. You're fighting a battle here at their facility.
"There was a jam shot here and a jam shot there, and then we made a bad play on a bunt -- a play we practice all the time. That was probably the difference. So, yeah, it was tough, but this is a great group of guys and they never hung their heads. They gave me every ounce of energy they had today."