LEWISTON - The search for the 20th national title is on hold for Lewis-Clark State Baseball. The 2020 season was cut short in the midst of a strong NAIA West run, taking with it the 2020 Avista NAIA World Series. After a rough start to the season, the Warriors picked up the pace with the help of some new bats and breakthrough pitching performances. LC State ended the shortened season with a record of 15-5.
“With the unfortunate circumstances of this past spring that led to the abrupt ending of our season, it was disappointing to say the least,” Head Coach Jake Taylor said. “We as a staff felt that we were definitely beginning to head in the right direction and the results began to be displayed on the field. Our team had worked extremely hard throughout the year and their effort and progress were beginning to show.”
The season started on a high note with an 8-1 victory over then-No. 14 William Jessup. Riley Way, Aidan Nagle and A.J. Davis each had two hits in the game. The game at Jessup was the first on the Warriors’ swing down south. LC went 1-3 at Arizona Christian’s tournament in Phoenix, highlighted by a win over then-No. 15 Westmont. Jaden Phillips had a big game, going 2-for-4 with three RBI.
“Our trip south was obviously a tough beginning to our season and not what we envisioned the start to look like,” Taylor recalled. “It did, however, shed light on what we needed to continue to work on to improve. It significantly increased our sense of urgency and diligence in the quality of our practices.”
The Warriors traveled to Concordia (Ore.) for a three-game set against the NCAA DII program. LC State swept the series with two wins on day one (4-0 and 3-2) followed by a statement win in game three. The Warriors routed the Concordia 11-3 in the final game, led by three hits each from Brock Ephan and Zach Needham. A three-run shot from Luke White gave him three RBI, and Davis also knocked in three.
“When the Western Oregon series was rained out it provided us ample time to gain valuable reps as a team on Harris Field,” Taylor explained. “Returning from a three-game sweep of Concordia, we felt we were beginning to gain a bit of momentum. As a team we were beginning to play better as a cohesive unit.”
NAIA West play began at home with a four-game set against UBC. LC split the series with the Thunderbirds and picked up a big 15-7 victory in the final game. Both Ephan and Dalton Harum went deep in the contest and Jack Johnson had an impressive 4-for-6 day. Both Way and Harum knocked in three while Ephan and Needham each had three hits.
LC State swept the next two series, taking four games each from the College of Idaho and Oregon Tech. The Warriors opened the series against C of I with a loud 12-0 victory that featured three hits from Johnson and White. Johnson, Nagle, Ephan and White all homered in the game. On the mound, Eric Chavarria tossed six scoreless and gave up just one hit. Bryson Spagnuolo closed out the game by going the final three innings without giving up a run.
“Our lineup began to be more offensive consistently from top to bottom,” Taylor said. “We had struggled early with a variety of things but essentially it revolved around our overall lack of offensive approach. Once we began to settle in and gain live game at bats we began to put up runs at a much more efficient pace.”
Chavarria threw the only complete game for a Warriors starter all season in the 5-1 victory over Oregon Tech in game one of the series. He allowed one run and did not walk a batter through nine innings. Way and Caden Goldby led the way at the plate with two hits each. The Warriors took game two 13-0 in one of the most dominant games of the season. Juhasz tossed six solid innings in his start on the mound, giving up only three hits without walking a batter. Cole Acosta sat the Owls down in order in the final inning of the run-rule game.
“Our pitching staff began to settle into their roles to maximize their abilities and provide us with the best chances of success,” Taylor explained. “We felt that our starting pitching kept getting better and our bullpen, at times, was outstanding.”
The Warriors defeated Oregon Tech 10-4 in the final game of the 2020 season. Ephan led the team with three hits and both he and Johnson went deep. Harum knocked in four runs.
“With the surreal events that were unfolding around the world at a rapid pace, it became apparent that it would only be a matter of time before our season would be ending unfortunately,” Taylor recalled. “We met as a team and provided them with the most current information that we had up to that point. It wasn’t a great day.”
Johnson made his name known with a hit in every game in the 2020 season. He led the Warriors with 34 hits in 20 games for a .400 batting average. He had a team-best 68 total bases and slugged .682. Another addition this season, White bagged the most doubles with 10 to go along with four home runs and a .308 average. Ephan made his triumphant return to Harris Field and launched nine home runs while knocking in 24 runs. At the end of the short season he had a batting average of .338 and was slugging .789 with an on-base percentage of .467.
“Our middle of the lineup began to perform like middle of the lineup hitters at LC State,” Taylor said. “We witnessed their production and success all fall and winter so we knew what they could be capable of. They were instrumental in our ability to score consistently.”
On the mound, newcomers Juhasz and Chavarria made an immediate impact. Chavarria tied for the team lead in wins with four at 4-0 on the season. He led the Warriors with 27 innings pitched and gave up just three runs for a 1.00 ERA. Juhasz was the only LC State pitcher to hold a 0.00 ERA when the season ended. He picked up two wins and had a WHIP of .50. In 14 innings pitched, he gave up only seven hits and held opponents to a .146 batting average.
Greg Blackman and Jesse Parker emerged as key pieces of the bullpen. Blackman made eight appearances totaling 22 innings. He had a WHIP of .50 with an ERA of .41 while holding opponents to a .111 batting average. Parker led the team in strikeouts with 30 in 25.2 innings. He tied for the team-lead with four wins, all in relief, and had an ERA of 2.81.
“Our pitching staff continued to improve weekly in all facets of their craft,” Taylor said. “We began to feel comfortable with our starting pitching as well as our bullpen and the path we were heading down. We felt between our pitching and defense we could be in every game the rest of the year.”
Many of this season’s seniors will return for the 2021 campaign when LC State continues the hunt for another title. For many, like Taylor and the Warriors, the spring season can’t come soon enough.
“I think everybody in the country is ready for baseball to return,” he said. “I know we will all be excited when that day comes. LC State Baseball will be energetic, passionate, and eager to improve and compete in 2021.”