By David Wilson
For the first time in school history, the Trevecca Trojans’ baseball team has reached the NCAA DII World Series.
Amidst a raging worldwide pandemic that still affects us today, there was uncertainty on whether baseball could even be played heading into the 2020-21 school year. Despite this challenge, the Trojans have overcome all odds and etched their names in school history in June of 2021.
Heading into the fall of 2020, the Trojans had to fight an uphill battle from the start. Coming off a Covid shortened spring season, there were a lot of question marks heading into the new school year. The main one; who would be leading the charge as the new head coach? Enter Chase Sain from Bolivar, TN. Sain, an assistant for Trevecca for the previous three seasons, was eager to embrace the challenges that came with being a head coach.
“Trevecca has been a special place for several years, even before I began my run here. It is a great place. I have never met someone who has said anything negative about Trevecca. [We] have an amazing school located in a great city,” he said.
Coach Sain’s message to the team heading into his first season was simple. He told his team that they had to have a “blue collar” attitude toward the upcoming season.
“We did not have as many resources as we would have in a normal year. I told the guys that we have to grind it out, day after day”.
The fall calendar was admittedly different for Sain’s Trojans. After the postponement of all collegiate sports in the spring, the NCAA made a historic decision. All NCAA athletes could return to school and receive an additional year of athletic eligibility. As a result, Trevecca returned nine seniors who were set to graduate the previous year.
“It was a great decision by the NCAA. Those guys deserved another opportunity to play,” he said.
Having those players back meant having team leaders back, said Shawn Wallwork, a redshirt freshman.
“Those guys led by example and had lots of experience,” he said.
The senior class of 2020 was in fact a veteran bunch.
“Some of those guys were 23-24 years old. It was huge. They desired to come back on their own. Some of them had jobs lined up, and they turned those opportunities down to set their sights on a championship,” said Sain.
Despite this decision by the NCAA, the outlook of the upcoming spring season was murky. During the fall, the Trojans were limited in the ways in which they could practice. Sain implied that the team did a lot of “small group” and “individual” work to prepare.
Luis Rodriquez, a junior on last year’s team, echoed Coach Sain’s comments.
“It was hard. We could not even go to the gym. We were not even able to use our locker room. There were a lot of things up in the air on whether we could play,” said Rodriguez.
There were a lot of obstacles in the way of the Trojans.
“We would even go to Rose Park to intrasquad just because it is a public park. That was our way of trying to build chemistry in light of Covid protocols,” said Wallwork.
When the spring finally came around, the Trojans were far from being the favorite to win the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (GMAC). In a preseason poll, Trevecca was projected to finish in 5th place out of 11 total teams by the end of the season.
Sain said it was an “accurate” prediction considering the results of the previous season.
“We saw that as a team and [we] wanted to show the school and conference that were better than that. We had the talent and experience,” said Rodriguez.
Sain agreed with Rodriguez’s comments stating that the poll served as a “chip on the shoulder” for the entire program.
The Trojans started the 2021 season with their home opener against Southern Indiana on March 5. Trevecca dominated the entire series, earning wins in all three games. The momentum from the season opening series continued as Sain’s group won eight of their first 10 games.
Over the next few months, the team would continue to have several small winning streaks. As the team continued winning on the field, Sain realized how special this team might be.
“We tried to be consistent every day. Our assistants did a great job. We put pressure on them everyday in practice. That way there would be no fear of making mistakes in the games,” said Sain.
After sweeping Cedarville to end the year, the Trojans ended the regular season in 1st place of the GMAC. Several members of the Trojans received awards highlighting their success in conference play. Coach Sain was named 2021 Great Midwest Coach of the Year. Braden Odom, Tiger Cox, and Jay Bernard were all named to 1st team all-conference. Ethan Harrison and Chase Haley were named to the 2nd team all-conference. Joseph McNamee concluded the awards for Trevecca earning 3rd team all-conference honors.
Trevecca Nazarene would travel to Mason, OH in hopes of winning the fourth conference tournament in school history.
The Trojans would open the conference tournament earning a 4-1 victory over the bottom-seeded Malone Pioneers. In the second game, Trevecca would score two late runs in the 8th inning earning a hard fought come-from-behind victory against Kentucky Wesleyan. Coach Sain’s group would now only be two wins away from being conference champions. The semifinal game against Hillsdale proved to be a “coming out party” for the Trojans. Offensively, Trevecca would mash out 14 hits, which included a five-run 2nd inning. They cruised to a 9-1 victory.
Now, one win away from earning a conference championship, Trevecca would face the defending conference champion Tiffin Dragons.
The championship game lived up to its advertisement. The Dragons and Trojans would trade the lead on four separate occasions throughout the contest. On the back of a pivotal four-run bottom of the 7th inning, Trevecca would overcome Tiffin, winning the conference championship.
Next on the slate for Trevecca would be the Great Midwest Regional Championships in St. Charles, MO.
In the opening round of the regional, Coach Sain and his team earned an 8-3 win over Quincy. Game number two of the regional presented an even more daunting task. The Trojans would face Lindenwood, the #6 team in the country and host of the regional. Lindenwood came out the gates red hot, jumping out to a 4-0 lead after the 5th inning. Yet Trevecca persevered, answering Lindenwood with a five-run top of the 6th. Two late insurance runs in the top of the 9th proved key, as Trevecca would win 7-4.
Located in the winner’s bracket of the regional, Trevecca now only stood two wins away from earning a trip to the DII World Series.
On Friday, May 29, the contest against Northwood would once again feature a great comeback. After jumping to an early lead, the Trojan pitching staff would surrender four runs in the bottom of the 3rd. However, Trevecca would answer right back, scoring five runs of their own in the top of the 4th. After a three-run 6th inning, the underdogs from Nashville would win 9-4.
Trevecca Nazarene would now sit in the Great Midwest Regional Championship game. One win away from Cary, NC, and the World Series. They would face Davenport University, who needed to come out of the loser’s bracket after an earlier defeat to Lindenwood.
The beauty of Trevecca winning all its previous games, was that Davenport would have to beat the Trojans twice to eliminate them.
That would prove key on championship Sunday, as Davenport would defeat Trevecca 6-2. Forcing a winner takes all game later that evening.
Trevecca punched early, scoring three runs in each of the first three innings of the game. Yet, a resilient Davenport team would continue to chip away during the middle innings. The game would enter the 8th inning all tied at 9-9. The Trojans would score two crucial runs in the 8th securing a victory and a trip to the World Series for the first time in school history.
In an interview postgame with Mike Organ of The Tennessean, Coach Sain exclaimed, “This is an unbelievable feeling; I don’t really have words right now…All I can say is this team right here is incredible. I love these guys. They never give up, they have so much fight…”
Luis Rodriguez still feels that same emotion today, saying “I get goosebumps thinking about it. Twenty years from now I will remember everything we accomplished”.
“We were a team all the way through. We could not succeed without the athletic department and the support of the Trevecca community. We are thankful,” said Wallwork.
Baseball in the state of Tennessee has grown over the last several years. Despite being shut down by the pandemic in 2020, the growth continued in 2021.
“I hope we provided a sense of normalcy for not only our school but the community. I am proud to be from the Nashville area and to be a part of its success,” said Wallwork.
Sain summarized the year by stating, “Baseball in Tennessee and in our local community is really good. It means a ton to have a piece of that success. Hopefully we opened some eyes [inside] and outside the state.”