LEWISTON, Idaho — A fly ball to right at historic Harris Field was caught by Bryce McFeely for the final out — and the celebration was on.
Westmont won the 66th Avista NAIA World Series on Friday, defeating the hosts, Lewis-Clark State, by a score of 7-6.
The players came together in an immediate dog pile amid hugs, tears and uncontainable joy, to the tune of “We Are The Champions.”
The Warriors, who move on to NCAA Division 3 next season, capped their seven-decade NAIA career with their first national championship, and an all-time program best record of 48-9.
“We have gone through so many ups and downs,” said senior captain Robbie Haw. “One thing we told each other is that we were going to stick together. Regardless of the decisions we would make, we would make sure the culture of Westmont would stay. That was the main thing.”
What would be the winning run for Westmont came on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the eighth to junior Parker O’Neil, scoring Haw from third base. Prior to that, the bases were loaded by an error, an intentional walk, and an unintentional walk.
Westmont held that 7-6 lead through the top of the ninth. Senior reliever Gabe Arteaga, a Bishop Diego alum who got the win pitching the last 2.1 innings, all scoreless, faced just three batters in the inning. On his second pitch to the last of those, Lewis-Clark’s Leo Rivera, popped up to right field, and into McFeely’s glove.
“I feel like every big, last out goes to McFeely,” Arteaga said. “So, once it went to the right side, I knew it was over. I knew Feely had it.”
“I couldn’t believe that was the moment,” said Haw of the final out. “Pure joy and happiness.”
“We did it,” was senior starter Chase Goddard’s first reaction. “It’s awesome. It’s a great feeling.”
Goddard pitched the first five innings. Lewis-Clark — also the Warriors — scored first with a one-run homer to left in the top of the second inning. Westmont then took the lead in the bottom of the second with a two-run single by Liam Critchett, scoring O’Neil and McFeely.
The Warriors from Montecito then scored in the next two innings, including RBI singles from Ryan DeSaegher and McFeely, taking a 5-1 lead into the fifth.
The Warriors from Idaho then announced they weren’t done with a three-run homer to pull within one at 5-4. McFeely scored an unearned run in the sixth for Westmont, and then Lewis-Clark scored two in the seventh to tie the game.
Critchett and DeSaegher were Westmont’s RBI leaders with two apiece. Haw, Brady Renck, and McFeely all scored two runs apiece.
In a postgame award ceremony, two Warriors were named to the All-Tournament Team. DeSaegher, who hit .375 (9 of 24) over six games and drove in 11 runs, was named as the All-Tournament third baseman.
Lucien Wechsberg, who made three appearances, was named as a pitcher to the All-Tournament team. Wechsberg pitched five and two-third innings in the series and recorded two saves. He did not allow a run and surrendered just five hits. He struck out seven and did not permit a walk.
Following the game, an emotional head coach Tyler LaTorre was filled with gratitude for his first season at Westmont.
“There are many people that are a part of this — the president of the school, Dr. Beebe, our athletic director and former head coach Robert Ruiz, and the whole athletic department. The journey of this team was set forth years ago.
“Robert Ruiz was brought in to save the program and he did that, getting us to Lewiston last year. Players came back this year with a new head coach. None of our guys left. None of them wanted to transfer anywhere else. Elijah Ontiveros, our assistant coach, communicated with them and they trusted in him when he told them about who was coming in.
“I am truly indebted to Elijah and Robert Ruiz and Dave Odell and our entire athletic department for pushing me to be the best coach I could be. I am so humbled to be a part of this athletic department.
“It is a community. This group of players are not alone. At Westmont they are not alone. They have faith in something greater than themselves. Even if we had lost on the field, our guys have faith. That is the Westmont Way.”
Haw also gave a lot of credit to Ruiz.
“He is the one that generated the culture here. He is the one that taught us how to win, how to have fun and how to be brothers. LT (LaTorre) enforced that. He didn’t try to change it or flip in on its head. He did an unreal job. It was such a joy to be a part of seeing both those guys coach.”
All told, this is the 10th national NAIA championship at Westmont, the second by a men’s team, after the 1972 men’s soccer team.
Eight women’s teams have claimed the NAIA’s red banner: women’s soccer five times (1985, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003), women’s basketball twice (2013, 2021) and women’s tennis once (1982).