BURBANK — Danny Casey had his share of success as a baseball player at Bellarmine-Jefferson High and Glendale Community College.
However, as far as team success goes, what the player has experienced this season with Concordia University is unsurpassed.
Casey and the Cinderella Concordia squad culminated the greatest season in program history with a 9-3 victory over Lubbock Christian on Friday night in Lewiston, Idaho, in the championship game of the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics World Series in front of a reported 3,075 fans.
“Everybody thought we couldn’t do this,” said Casey of his Eagles squad, the only team in the World Series that was never ranked in the NAIA Top 25. “We beat every team … We’re the best team here.”
Casey sent a run-scoring single up the middle to score the ninth run of the game in the top of the ninth and the fifth run of the stanza, as the Eagles turned a close game into a blowout.
“It just started falling into place,” said Casey of the game-clinching rally. “It’s contagious.”
For the game, the former All-Area standout went one for three with a run scored, a run batted in, a stolen base and was hit by pitches twice. He also had four assists playing flawlessly at third base.
Concordia, the ninth seed in the 10-team tournament, finished its season at 44-19, winning a first-ever NAIA title in the process and becoming the first Golden State Athletic Conference squad to do so.
Casey began Concordia’s offensive output in the top of the third when he was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. He eventually came around to score on a base hit by Matt Ivanoff for a 1-0 lead.
Lubbock Christian (50-14) answered right back with two runs to take the lead in the bottom of the inning.
Casey capped the Eagles’ scoring in the five-run ninth when he singled up the middle to drive in the final run of a magical season.
“It’s amazing,” said Casey of winning the championship. “I can’t even explain it.”
In the 55-year history of the NAIA World Series, no team from the Golden State Athletic Conference had ever taken home the national crown.
The Eagles, who finished at fourth place in the GSAC in the regular season, turned the season around in an historic way, as the program had 25 wins over a span of 28 games to end the season.
“It’s a surreal moment,” pitcher Blake Harrison said on the Concordia website. “I can’t really wrap my mind around what’s going on. In that last inning, I went up to Danny Casey ... and I said, ‘Is this the national championship game?’ It didn’t even click in my head, I was so in the zone.”
Harrison, whose three complete games in the month of April had buoyed a school-record 12-game winning streak for Concordia, ended up going the distance, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits three strikeouts and no walks.
After the fourth, Harrison settled in and set down 15 consecutive batters to preserve the one-run lead. But the Eagles sent 11 men to the plate in the ninth inning and plated five runs in the process to distance themselves.
Concordia ended the World Series with 12 stolen bases in just six games, eight more than the next-highest total and three more than the next-highest total of attempts.
The Eagles outscored Lubbock Christian, the next-highest scoring of the 10-team field, by a 41-31 tally.
In addition to capturing Concordia athletics’ third national title (2003 men’s basketball and 2000 women’s cross-country), the Eagles received the Hank Burbridge Champions of Character Team Award, which was received by three-time NAIA Scholar-Athlete Jacob McBride after the game.
“It’s a great group of guys,” Coach Mike Grahovac said. “They did everything right while we were out here, and they did everything right throughout the year — even when things were going wrong [on the field]. It really showed for us.
“For the alumni, this is for them, too. We had a couple of them drive out for this, and it was awesome to have them ... I’m so happy for those guys…They’ve been doing everything they’re supposed to be doing. They’ve worked hard for this, and they got it done. I’m so proud of them.”
A two-time Santa Fe League Player of the Year, Casey also earned CIF Southern Section and All-Are accolades while a player at Bell-Jeff.
At Glendale college, Casey was an All-Western State Conference honorable mention selection in 2007 before suffering a season-ending ankle sprain in early 2008.
In his first season at Concordia last season, Casey was awarded a Golden State Athletic Conference Gold Glove award.