LEWISTON, Idaho -- No. 5 Union (Ky.) College (48-16) won its first game in its inaugural World Series after surviving a 9-8 victory over No. 4 Azusa Pacific (Calif.) University at the 2008 AVISTA-NAIA World Series. The NAIA's leading wins pitcher, Marty Popham, went 8.2 innings striking out nine batters to improve to 17-1 on the year.
The Cougars of APU had the tying-run on first base in the ninth inning with two outs but couldn't plate the team's ninth run. They scored three times in the final two innings to give the 1,380 fans an exciting third game of the Series.
Union plated two runs in the first inning without the benefit of a hit. Lioney Henriquez came home on a passed ball by APU catcher Derrick Keeton. The second run in the inning was scored via a wild pitch uncorked by starter Andrew Shive. Reaching on the walk, Joe Grinstead gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead on the wild pitch.
APU got to within 2-1 in the top of the third frame. Ryan Dowell reached on a one-out walk. After scooting over to third on a single and a walk, he scored on a fielder's choice by Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Justin Hart gave Union a 4-1 edge thanks to his ninth home run of the year, a two-run shot, in the third inning. Popham was cruising through four innings giving up just one hit and one run up to that point. He ran into trouble starting with the second Azusa Pacific batter, Dowell, in the fifth inning.
Dowell came around on a Matt Venegas RBI single. That run was the first of four in the inning as the Cougars tied the score at 5-5. Nieuwenhuis provided the big hit. On a 1-1 pitch, he laced a triple, his team-leading fourth of the year, to right field as two runners scored on the play.
The tie was broken in the bottom half of the fifth as the Bulldogs scored twice. They expanded their lead to 9-5 with two more in the sixth. APU threatened in the eighth inning stringing together two, two-out singles to chase Popham. Marcus White toed the rubber for Union and induced a grounder to shortstop. The grounder was misplayed and the Cougars scored once on the error, before White struck out the ensuing batter.
Down by three at 9-6, APU created drama in the top of the ninth courtesy of Keeton's bat. With two outs, he struck a single to left field to score two Cougars and the score stood 9-8. However, White earned his first save of the year sitting down APU batter Drew Evans on a called third-strike.
Popham allowed a season-tying high five runs on eight hits. After 146 total pitches, he exited the game in the top of the eighth inning with two outs. He walked five batters.
Union marks the third straight team in the last three years to win their first World Series game in their first ever appearance - Walsh (2007) and British Columbia (2006) were the others.
Union will take on the winner of No. 1 Lee (Tenn.) and No. 8 Bellevue (Neb.) on Monday, May 26 at 3 p.m. Azusa Pacific turns back around tomorrow morning and plays No. 9 Ohio Dominican University (40-15) at 8:30 a.m. - ODU dropped a 15-3, 8-inning game to No. 8 Bellevue earlier today.