St. Thomas University’s baseball team staved off elimination four times at the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
Once, they won on a walk-off sacrifice fly.
Once, they were down to their final out before taking advantage of an error.
Through it all, the Bobcats became the darlings of Lewiston, especially when 6-2, 300-pound pitcher Ben Ancheff took the mound.
Ancheff, a former high school defensive lineman who earned a baseball scholarship to the University of Georgia before transferring, pitched a season-high 41/3 innings late Friday night, leaving with a 5-1 lead that would grow to 7-1.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, host Lewis-Clark State rallied for a 10-7 win to earn the national title. The Bobcats blew a 7-4 lead in the eighth.
“I’m pretty destroyed,” STU coach Jorge Perez said of his emotions following the loss. “We were six outs away from a national title.”
Ancheff, who was coming off Tommy John surgery, made his STU debut on March 31.
His start in Friday’s title game was just his sixth of the season, but a blog post by SBNation.com hailed him as “our new favorite athlete.”
As for the rest of the Bobcats (48-18), this was their furthest advance at the World Series. The team was attempting to become the first STU program to win a national title in any sport.
That title might have happened on Friday if not for a 45-minute lightning delay that happened in the sixth inning — at 11:50 p.m. Eastern time — with the Bobcats leading 7-3. The delay led to a pitching change and got further into STU’s bullpen.
“I think the umpire was premature [in delaying the game],” Perez said. “The [lightning] was 20 miles away. The rule is normally 10 miles. ... If they don’t stop the game, I think we come back as national champs.”
Still, the Bobcats made an impression in Idaho, getting five of their players on the all-tournament team. Including freshman relief pitcher Chris Rodriguez, who won three games in Idaho.
The other Bobcats on the all-tournament team were junior catcher Steven Fischer, junior shortstop Cesar Ramirez, junior left fielder Jerry Downs and senior first baseman Eric Santamaria, who made it as a utility infielder.
Other than Fischer, who is from Gainesville, the rest of the aforementioned list are from South Florida high schools: Rodriguez (Flanagan), Ramirez (Coral Park), Downs (St. Brendan) and Santamaria (Miami Christian).
In fact, of the Bobcats’ 25 players, 17 are from Miami-Dade and Broward high schools.
And here are even better news for Bobcats fans: Of their 16 core players, only three are seniors, although Downs — who is drawing interest from pro teams — could sign after next month’s Major League Baseball draft.
Other returning players include sophomore second baseman Michael Centeno, junior third baseman Brandon Canizares, freshman center fielder Oscar Rodriguez, sophomore right fielder Adam Duarte and junior ace pitcher Marcos Barrios.
The recently concluded women’s tennis season marked just the fourth time in program history that Miami has had two players reach the NCAA quarterfinals in the same year.
Junior Stephanie Wagner made the semifinals before losing to eventual champ Jamie Loeb of North Carolina, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Wagner beat four top-10 players this season, including two in the top five.
Miami’s Sinead Lohan, the ACC Freshman of the Year, reached the quarterfinals.
Lohan (23-4) beat three seniors ranked higher than her at nationals.