The Judson University baseball team's quest for a berth in the NAIA World Series suffered a setback Friday but not a fatal blow.
The third-seeded Eagles were limited to 6 hits in a 5-0 loss to No. 1 York College (Neb.) at the NAIA Opening Round Qualifier at Sliver Cross Field in Joliet, which follows a double-elimination format.
Judson (45-16) was unable to solve long-bearded left-hander Aaron Conyers (9-2), who recently was named NAIA National Pitcher of the Week for a no-hitter he threw against Central Baptist (Ark.) on April 26. Conyers (9-2) needed 105 pitches to toss a 9-inning shutout and snap Judson's 18-game winning streak.
"Our guys know the game. They know we ran into a good pitcher," Judson coach Rich Benjamin said. "Their pride may not admit to it, but the reality is we ran into a good arm, one of the top five arms in NAIA."
Judson will play No. 2 Cumberland, (Tenn.) in an elimination game today at 11 a.m. A win would advance the Eagles to a championship-round rematch against York at 6 p.m. If Judson manages to win twice, it would set up a winner take all rubber game against York on Monday for a berth in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
"We're going to come back and grind every out, every at-bat," said sophomore Tony Rallo, a St. Charles East graduate. "We're not done yet. We're still going to try to make a splash."
"We have to come back (today) and try to win each pitch, win nine innings, then get ready for the next one," Benjamin said.
York (43-10) scored 4 earned runs in 5 innings against Judson starting pitcher T.J. Swank (8-2), a Prairie Ridge graduate. Swank allowed 7 hits, walked 1 and hit 4 batters with pitches. Two of those hit batsmen eventually scored. Swank wasn't helped by two outfield throws to the plate that missed the cutoff man and allowed York baserunners to advance.
"They did a great job with my fastball," Swank said. "I was throwing it well and thought I had pretty decent control of my pitches. They did a good job battling and going the other way. When I made mistakes they definitely made me pay for it."
Rallo was the only Judson hitter to register a multihit game (2-for-4) against Conyers, who walked none and struck out 5.
"He had command of all three of his pitches, his fastball, his curveball and his changeup," Rallo said. "He could throw them in any count he wanted to and he mixed it up well."
The loss forces the Eagles to win three straight games, including two in a row against No. 1 York, to reach the NAIA World Series for the first time in school history.
"The best team is determined after a double-elimination tournament," Benjamin said. "It's who has more horses, who maintains their confidence despite their circumstance and plays the game hard. That team will win."