Chemainus product Zach Diewert’s crucial at-bat in the championship game of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics World Series lasted two days in what’s surely an oddity in U.S. college baseball history.
Diewert, in his first start of the 10-team double knockout tournament at Lewiston, Idaho for the top-seeded Southeastern University Fire of Lakeland, Florida, held the potential fate of the team in his hands during the seventh inning of the finale Thursday night against host Lewis-Clark State. Several hours after that plate appearance and into Friday morning, he delivered as the Fire went on to an 11-5 victory to become World Series champions.
Southeastern had just rallied from a 5-4 deficit with a run in the fifth to tie the game 5-5 and went ahead 6-5 in the seventh when Diewert came to the plate with the bases loaded and no one out.
“I knew I could do the job,” said Diewert. “I was pretty hyped up in the moment.”
But then the weather intervened and the players were pulled off the field to see if the game might continue that night.
“I didn’t even know what was going on at first,” Diewert indicated. “We didn’t even know the rain was coming.”
After a two-hour delay, the game was called and Diewert was left to sleep on his big opportunity overnight. Play resumed the next morning under sunny skies. It was all quite surreal to have that big moment delayed.
“I was trying to not overthink it, that it wasn’t a World Series championship game,” Diewert confided.
It was easy to say in theory, but much different in reality as he wanted so much to make a difference in his final year of college eligibility, including the last two at Southeastern.
Diewert eventually did that, putting the ball in play and reaching base on a shortstop error that opened the floodgates and led to a six-run inning that sealed the deal for Southeastern.
“It made it all even sweeter the next day,” he said of the outcome.
It was ironically the largest margin of victory for the team in the tournament, even though the game was very much in doubt until the seventh, with a hostile crowd cheering on the hometown team.
“That place was packed, it was all Lewis-Clark fans,” noted Diewert. “Definitely nice to come back and win, especially that team.”
The Fire ended the season with a remarkable 59-4 record overall.
Diewert had been hoping for a start earlier in the tournament, but it didn’t happen until the finale when he went in as the designated hitter and finished with one RBI, a walk and a run scored.
“They wanted my bat in the lineup,” said Diewert. “There was a lot of things going into it.
“We knew we had all the guys ready to do it. Everyone would go in and fill the job. We have a lot of talent.”
Diewert was just happy to be included on the Fire’s 25-man playoff roster after being injured earlier in the season, something that plagued him throughout his college career and stretched it to seven years, including two red-shirt seasons and a cancelled season due to COVID.
To end it this way was a dream come true for him.
“Soon as we got that last out, it was a pretty good feeling, being at peace with being done with college baseball,” said Diewert.
Lewis-Clark State had forced a deciding game with a wild 10-9 victory over Southeastern earlier Thursday afternoon, building a 9-4 lead at one point and holding off a late charge by the Fire.
Diewert pointed out the Fire actually had a very tough draw despite being the No. 1 seed and it showed in the results where every game was a battle.
Southeastern overcame a 6-0 deficit in the opening game against defending champion Georgia Gwinnett and prevailed 9-7 with two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Diewert got into the game as a pinch runner and scored a run.
Southeastern then also trailed 3-2 in the fifth inning before rallying to beat LSU Shreveport 8-4. Diewert had one at-bat as a pinch hitter, but struck out.
Southeastern broke open a 3-3 tie with two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth in its next game en route to a 9-5 triumph against host Lewis-Clark State. Diewert did not see any action in that game.
The Fire then needed 10 innings for an 8-7 win over No. 2 Tennessee Wesleyan.
Diewert came into the game as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth and scored the tying run on an RBI single to right field by designated hitter Gary Lora, who went four-for-five in the game.
That led to the pair of games against Lewis-Clark State, with the hosts extending the Fire to the limit.
Diewert was preparing to make the long drive back home from Florida with his dad, with plans to stop all along the route to take in the sights.
Diewert played his minor baseball in Chemainus and with the Mid-Island Mustangs at the Bantam level for a couple of seasons as well as Duncan summer ball en route to his college success.
He’s torn about possibly playing some professional baseball this summer, retiring all together or doing some coaching.
“It’s kind of the perfect time for me to stay in baseball,” Diewert reasoned. “But it’s tough not to retire on this World Series note. It’s an awesome way to wrap up baseball.”
Diewert will also be looking to put his Masters degree in Business Administration to work.
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