It’s said that in baseball, momentum is only as good as the next day’s starting pitcher.
And that’s partially true with Columbus State at the Division II College World Series.
Senior left-hander Perez Knowles did, in fact, pick up right where opening game starter Kolton Ingram left off, throwing eight shutout innings to lead the Cougars to a 6-0 victory against defending national runnerup UC San Diego at the USA Baseball Training Center.
But the momentum that continues to build for coach Greg Appleton’s talented team can be traced farther back than CSU’s arrival in North Carolina.
Winning for the fifth straight time since facing elimination at the South Regional last week, the Cougars are one of just two undefeated teams remaining in the double-elimination national championship tournament.
Their latest victory earns them a day off while they wait to see who they’ll play in Thursday’s semifinal. They are scheduled to play at 10 a.m. against Florida Southern. The game was originally scheduled for 3 p.m., but moved up because of weather concerns.
A CSU win would move the Cougars into the championship round. If Florida Southern wins, the two teams would play again on Friday for a spot in the championship.
“We always preach about getting better every game,” junior DH Chase Brown said. “That’s what we’ve tried to do, for the most part.”
Just as Ingram did in Saturday’s 8-1 victory against Mercyhurst, Knowles put up a solid string of zeroes against a hard-hitting Tritons lineup that came into the game averaging 8.6 runs per game with a team batting average of .311.
That’s about the only thing the two pitching performances had in common.
While Ingram was dominant in his eight innings of work, Knowles was in and out of trouble all night long. He walked four, hit a batter and gave up three hits while putting runners on in every inning except the first, six of them in scoring position.
Each time, though, he managed to retire UCSD without allowing a run.
“It was just keeping my heart rate calm, I guess, and trying to execute the pitch Coach coach was calling and hope for the best,” said Knowles, who struck out seven while improving his record to 8-3. “I just had to keep fighting through it, make the pitches and let the defense help me out.”
Knowles’ Houdini act carried over to the bullpen, when after Sheridan Coy and Payton Phillips loaded the bases with one out in the eighth, Phillips escaped unscathed by inducing UCSD’s Blake Brigman into an inning ending double play. He also left runners on second and third in the ninth.
The Tritons (43-16) could have used some clutch hitting tips from the Cougars, who scored four of their six runs with two outs.
The first two came in the second inning, when after Brown and Robert Brooks set the table with a walk and a double, second baseman Gunar Drinnen brought both home with a line drive double into the left field corner.
An inning later, Brown singled home Garrett Kirkwood for the first of his three RBI in the game, again with two outs.
Brown was again at the center of a rally in the fifth, as CSU extended its lead to 5-0. This time he delivered two runs with one out after Kirkwood singled and Pharr moved him around with one of his team’s five doubles.
The Cougars (47-13) got their final run in the sixth — again with two away — when leadoff man Grant Berry never stopped running from first and beat the throw home on a shallow double by Kirkwood.
“We always preach about getting two-out hits and how they come up big,” Brown said. “Tonight was just one of those nights we were able to get them.”
Kirkwood finished the day with three hits, while Pharr and Brown had two each to lead an 11-hit attack. CSU has now outscored its first two opponents 14-1 in its two CWS games.
“Coming in here and beating a real good team in UC San Diego was big for us and it put us in a good position,” Appleton said. “But we’re not done by any stretch. There’s a lot of good teams left and a lot of work to be done.
“So we’re just taking it game-by-game, inning-by-inning and just taking what comes to us. That’s the best way to handle it at this point.”