ATHENS, Tenn. - Former Hononegah baseball stars Adrian Marquez and Jack Granath are national champions.
The duo helped lead Tennessee Wesleyan to an NAIA World Series title on Saturday as the Bulldogs defeated St. Thomas 6-2 at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho.
It was a perfect way to end an outstanding season, not to mention a pair of terrific, albeit well-traveled collegiate careers for the homegrown stars.
Both players were key contributors in the team's run to the title. Granath pitched seven innings and allowed just two runs in a game at the World Series, one in which the Bulldogs pulled out in the late innings.
Granath, who had been an effective closer for Wesleyan in the games leading up to the Series, said things didn't start the way he wanted them to.
"There were guys throwing in the bullpen behind me in both the first and second innings," Granath said. "In the first inning, they made a huge baserunning error that helped me get out of an inning, and they hit into a double play. In the second inning, the leadoff guy hit a home run, and they loaded the bases before hitting into another double play. After that, I settled down and was able to get through seven innings. And by best friend on the team came in after me and actually got the win, so it was a pretty great deal."
Granath finished the season with an 8-2 record and four saves, compiling a stellar 3.16 ERA.
The Bulldogs won their first three games of the World Series before dropping their fourth, setting up Saturday's winner-take-all showdown with St. Thomas (Fla).
Wesleyan scored single runs in the first and third innings before scoring twice in the fourth and once in the fifth to grab a 5-0 lead and closed strong to clinch the title.
"I don't even think I can explain the feeling we had after the final out," Granath said. "With how hard our coaches are on us, and everything we've had to go through to get to that point, it was just amazing."
Granath said the team had extra incentive to finish their title run. 8-year old Neyland Pickel, a classmate of one of the coach's kids, was diagnosed with cancer a third time in the fall. As a special treat, the Bulldogs had Pickel come to practice and presented him with an autographed bat and ball.
After that, Pickel's presence became routine, and between chemotherapy appointments, he would cheer on the team at practice and in games, even sitting in the dugout.
When the Bulldogs recached the regionals, Pickel was there, too. He made all the games, except one: The only one, as it turned out, the Bulldogs lost.
Thanks to a few generous Bulldog supporters, Neyman and his family was able to fly to Idaho for the World Series, with Neyman sitting in the dugout for every game.
"We played for each other, of course," Granath said. "But we played for him, too. I think that really brought us all together as a team."
Granath now plans to play independent baseball, though the final destination still needs to be worked out.
Marquez finished the season hitting .297 wiht 10 home runs and 26 RBI's in 118 at-bats.
He picked up a hit and scored a run in the title game after starting in right field.