HATTIESBURG, Miss. — The UHV baseball team will see at least one more day in the NAIA Opening Round.
The Jaguars scored nine runs between the fifth and eighth innings for a 9-3 elimination game win over No. 14 Texas Wesleyan on Tuesday at Milton Wheeler Field.
UHV (28-26) will face Ave Maria at 10 a.m. Wednesday for the right to face William Carey University in the championship round.
With the victory, the Jaguars assured their first winning season since 2015.
“Yesterday, we had a 20-hour day almost and the boys were tired,” said UHV head coach Jonathan Stavinoha. “Today, they slept in. Texas Wesleyan kind of had the same situation as us yesterday, so I said, ‘Let’s put the pedal down.’ If we jumped out, we could keep going and really take off, and boy did the bats come alive.”
Hayden Leopold tied the game at 1 with an RBI double in the fifth inning before Hal Perez sparked a three-run sixth inning with a towering solo home run to left field, his team-leading ninth of the year.
Westley Schields and Leopold followed Perez’s lead with RBIs to cap the sixth-inning scoring.
“I was just talking to myself, trying to relax and have fun,” Perez said. “This tournament, I’ve been seeing the ball well. It just finally fell down. It just feels amazing to help my team win one more game.”
Leopold was one of five Jaguars with a multi-hit performance against the Rams (37-16), joining Schields, Raul Lopez, Ty Williams and Julian DeLeon.
Leopold, a Columbus graduate, shared the team-lead in RBIs (2) with Levi Whitlock, who delivered the final blow with a two-run single in the eighth inning.
Leopold has been red-hot this postseason, hitting .461 in 26 at-bats with five doubles and four RBIs.
“We’re just sticking to what we’ve been doing for the whole postseason,” Leopold said. “We’re getting guys on base, moving them over; doing the little things right. When a guy’s in scoring position with one out, we’re putting the ball in play. It ended up clicking.”
Julian Garcia picked up the win on the mound after an ironman performance.
For the third time this season, the Houston native threw eight innings, striking out seven while allowing three runs on seven hits.
Despite allowing a run in the first inning, the 6-foot-4 right-hander settled in to throw shutout innings over the next five frames.
Garcia escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fifth before Leopold’s game-tying double.
“I knew we’d eventually score,” Garcia said. “I just had a good fastball working today. My cutter and splitter weren’t working as much, but they were big when I needed them. And the defense was incredible today. Julian DeLeon made every play at shortstop and Hal called a great game as usual.”
The winner of Wednesday’s 10 a.m. elimination game will play at 1:30 p.m.