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Point Loma Nazarene opens NCAA Division II baseball championship tournament with convincing win

Point Loma Nazarene's Baxter Halligan pitches against Illinois Springfield in the NCAA Division II championship tournament.
Point Loma Nazarene’s Baxter Halligan tied the university’s single-season record for victories with his 13th as the Sea Lions defeated Illinois Springfield 8-1 on June 4, opening day of the NCAA Division II championship tournament in Cary, N.C.
(PLNU Athletics)

The Sea Lions beat Illinois Springfield 8-1 as they make their tournament debut.

Point Loma Nazarene University is among several teams making their first visit to the NCAA Division II baseball championship tournament in Cary, N.C.

The Sea Lions are calm, cool and collected, however, because they have someone to provide insight and make the most of the opportunity.

That would be PLNU head coach Justin James, who made back-to-back trips to the event with UC San Diego, when James was pitching coach for the Tritons during the 2017-18 seasons.

“I think it’s been pretty big, actually,” James said. “I understand the schedule. I understand what to do with them in regard to not overdoing things and just trying to keep it as normal as possible.

“We already prepped on getting used to the weather — how to adapt to the humidity and staying hydrated — so we can adjust to not having the perfect San Diego weather.

“Really, just trying to keep it simple and keep them locked in on what matters, which is baseball.”

And so it was June 4, when PLNU didn’t flinch when Illinois Springfield collected three singles and produced a run just four batters into the game.

Sea Lions starting pitcher Baxter Halligan and his teammates shrugged it off and did what they’ve done more than any team in PLNU’s history. They won.

The Sea Lions defeated Illinois Springfield 8-1 on the opening day of the championship tournament, shutting out the Prairie Stars over the game’s final 8 2/3 innings.

Earlier in the day, Southern Arkansas defeated Rollins 3-1, setting up a winners bracket game on Monday, June 6, between Southern Arkansas (47-11) and PLNU (49-8). The game begins at 3 p.m. PDT.

Halligan (13-2) tied the Sea Lions’ single-season record for wins with the victory.

After those three first-inning singles, the senior left-hander allowed just four hits over the next 5 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one, handing a 4-1 lead to the bullpen to get the last nine outs.

Teammates Zach Veen and Cole Hillier did just that, getting three and six outs, respectively. Hillier recorded his 16th save, extending his single-season school record.

As he has done all season, Halligan helped himself at the plate. He and shortstop Scott Anderson had a game-high three hits each.

Halligan drove in two of PLNU’s runs, one of them in the first inning when the Sea Lions responded to Illinois Springfield’s lone run with three of their own.

Halligan made it 4-1 in the second with his second RBI single in two innings.

The Sea Lions tacked on four more runs in the eighth inning, scoring on an error, a bases-loaded walk and a two-run single by third baseman Otto Kemp, all before the Prairie Stars could get an out.

Point Loma Nazarene went into the tournament as the No. 2 seed after a school-record 48-8 regular season a big turnaround from last year’s 11 wins.

Halligan, who also is an outfielder, was the PacWest Conference Pitcher and Player of the Year this season with a 12-2 pitching record, a 2.25 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 18 walks in 88 innings pitched, plus a .345 batting average with nine home runs and 44 RBIs.

Anderson was the PacWest Defensive Player of the Year.


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