May 25, 2008
DELAND, Fla. _ Fifteen innings. Nineteen runs. Thirty-five hits. 13 pitchers. Three minutes short of five hours.
The numbers tell a large part of how the Lipscomb Bisons became the Atlantic Sun Champions in baseball for the first time ever Sunday afternoon in a 10-9 win over Gardner-Webb. But there was a great deal of heart and a variety of emotion as well.
In the end right fielder Shane Simpkins, who led the No.1-seeded Bisons with four hits, drove home center fielder Allen Bolden with the winning run in what was generally described by the crowd here at Melching Field at Conrad Park as "possibly the best college baseball game ever played."
"It was amazing," Simpkins said. "This team was assembled to come down here and win this championship. We all bought into the system at the beginning and we believed it.
"We had our ups and downs throughout the season. Once we got here to the tournament it was meant to be from the first game on. We molded together."
It was a dogfight from the beginning. Gardner-Webb, the No. 4 seed, opened with three runs in the first and added one more in the fourth. The Bisons rallied for six in the sixth, but Gardner-Webb came back with two more in the ninth to send the game into extra innings, the first time the A-Sun title game has gone into extra innings.
Both teams scored one run in the 13th inning. In the 15th Gardner-Webb struck twice, but the Bisons responded with three to end the marathon.
"It was game of cat-and-mouse," said Lipscomb catcher Caleb Joseph, the tournament MVP. "It was back-and-forth, back-and-forth and back-and-forth. That does a lot to you mentally.
`You have a good lead and things happen. But we just fought back. Gardner-Webb has a well-coached team. They stick to their game plan. They gave us a run for our money. I don't think anyone knew who was going to win it, but we got lucky with the ground ball through the four-hole."
The Bisons were in the tournament for their second year. Joseph credits coach Jeff Forehand for the success of the team.
"Coach Forehand is an unbelievable motivator," Joseph said. "He has done a heckuva job recruiting. Everything he and the coaching staff have done prepared us for this moment. We have followed his lead and he led us here to the championship game. With a little magic, a little luck and a little determination it fell our way."
Forehand admitted the beginning of the game was not the way he had envisioned it. As his players all rushed to hold onto the championship trophy Forehand stayed in the dugout and quietly wiped away a tear or two of joy.
"This is what we have been working on since the beginning of the year," Forehand said. "We set our goal on one prize and that was to get to an NCAA regional and take the next step."
Forehand gave Gardner-Webb and coach Rusty Stroupe high praise. Gardner-Webb is leaving the conference to be part of the Big South next season.
"That was an unbelievable game and Rusty is an unbelievable coach," Forehand said. "I have been in a lot of games and that might have been the best one I have ever been in.
"Rusty was very classy after the game. He said it was a great battle and that both teams will have stories to tell from it for a long time. Anybody could have come out on top. Fortunately, we did."
The Bisons will know where they are going to play in the Regionals Monday. A party will be held at 11 a.m. at Allen Arena to view the selection process.