The Cardinals will face No. 2 Ohio State at 4 p.m. in the winners bracket final, a game the Raiders expected to be in after overcoming a 5-0 deficit by scoring two in the fourth and four in the fifth to take a 6-5 on Ryan Fucci’s bases-loaded double.
After giving up five runs with two outs in the third, WSU starter Jesse Scholtens looked like the ace he’s been all year, retiring 11 of the next 13 batters he faced to get the Raiders to the eighth with the lead.
That’s when Lovelady handed the ball to Sampen, the Horizon League freshman of the year.
Sampen gave up two hits in the eighth before stranding runners on second and third. But he walked Nick Sergagkis to lead off the ninth, and after a sacrifice bunt, Dawson’s single to right scored Sergagkis with the tying run on a close play at the plate.
Sampen walked two more, one intentionally, to load the bases with two outs, and Washington ended things with a deep drive just beyond the reach of center fielder Adrain Marquez, who had just entered the game after Fucci left with cramps after the eighth.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” Sampen said. “I should have been better. I knew what to expect, but I didn’t come up to the standard today.”
Lovelady said he never hesitated to send Sampen into the game for his first relief appearance of the year.
“The kid’s pitched in a lot of big games,” Lovelady said, noting his complete-game performance in the HL tournament championship game last Saturday.
“I had no worries,” Lovelady added. “He’s a really bright and articulate kid that’s shown unbelievable poise all year. I had all the faith in the world, and if the situation comes again tomorrow, I’ll have all the faith in him again.”
Lovelady also said he has confidence his team can rally from the first-round loss the way it did last year, when the Raiders bounced back with consecutive wins to reach the championship game against Illinois.
“We’ve been in this situation before last year, so we understand what’s up, what the stakes are,” he said. “The kids will probably be hurting tonight, but they’ll get over it. They’re young. They get this. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. When they wake up tomorrow, they’ll be fine. I have no doubt we’ll be ready when they say “play ball” tomorrow.”