Hattiesburg, Miss.- James Land (SR/Gulfport, Miss.) is a lot of things.
A slugging senior on the William Carey baseball team who has hit 19 home runs this season. The Crusaders' leading hitter at .391. The Southern States Athletic Conference's Player of the Year, too.
On Thursday, the former Harrison Central star added psychic to his resumè.
As teammate Wes Brown (JR/Denham Springs, La.), William Carey's nine-hole hitter, strode to the plate with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 9-9 tie against Southeastern (Florida) and the potential winning run on second base, Land was prophetic in his faith in Brown.
"Wes got this!" he announced to the third base dugout.
Less than 90 seconds later, Brown hammered a Kade Wagner (11-4) offering to left field. Adrian Brown (SR/McComb, Miss.) raced home, beating the throw by inches, to give the Crusaders a 10-9 victory in the title game of the NAIA National Championship Opening Round. The win sends William Carey (42-18) to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 1978.
The World Series is set for May 26-June 2 at Lewiston, Idaho.
Bobby Halford, who has served as the team's head coach for 32 years and led the Crusaders to its 1,104th win Thursday, said his experience helped get William Carey through the four-day tournament. His squad, the No. 3 seed, finished 4-1 against the field. Three of the week's four triumphs were walk-off efforts, while all of them were come-from-behind affairs.
"I've been doing this for a long time," Halford said. "We've been down 8-0, 14-2. You have 27 outs. Nothing's over until that last out is gotten. That was the saving grace for me."
The World Series trip is especially satisfying for William Carey. It comes less than four months after an EF3 tornado ravaged the school's Hattiesburg campus, including the baseball team's home facility. The devastation kept the Crusaders from playing at Milton Wheeler Field until March and left them unable to play any home night games.
"We just feel so humble," Halford said. "Especially after what happened with the tornado. Everybody in town stayed supportive. So helpful. It just makes it that much more special."
William Carey's comeback began in the fifth inning, when the home team was down 8-3 to the Fire. The Crusaders cut into the deficit, making it 8-6 headed to the sixth. In the sixth, the momentum continued. Tyler Odom (SR/Hattiesburg, Miss.) doubled in a run before Cody Christian (SR/Satsuma, Ala.), who drove in five runs, singled home a pair to give William Carey a 9-8 lead.
Southeastern loaded the bases with nobody out against Crusaders reliever Conner McWilliams (SO/New Orleans, La.) (7-1) in the top of the seventh. The Fire tied the game on a sacrifice fly, but the sophomore McWilliams escaped further damage. The right-hander also got out of an eighth-inning jam without allowing a run after Southeastern put runners on the corners with one out.
"Can't say enough about Conner McWilliams," Halford said. "We knew we'd have to use the whole staff, and Conner only threw 80 pitches (in Tuesday's loss to Southeastern), so that was a good thing."
Adrian Brown singled with one out and moved to second on Larson Barkurn (SR/Petal, Miss.)'s single. Wes Brown followed with his third hit of the game and the sixth in his last eight at-bats. It set off a wild celebration on the infield.
"I just knew it was his time," Land said. "He's been carrying us this whole week. I just knew he was going to do it."
"I just had a good tournament the last couple of games, so I was just happy to be in that situation," Wes Brown said. "(Wagner is) kind of a finesse lefty, so I was just looking for something off-speed. I put a good swing on it and it happened to go through. A.B. got in and we won the whole thing. It was awesome.
"I'm just happy. It's just unbelievable."
Written by : Jason Munz - Hattiesburg American