LEWISTON -- The St. Thomas Bobcats had squeezed into the final three in the Avista NAIA World Series with guts and guile — and not much offensive fireworks. In their first four Series games, they had won three games by a total of five runs and lost one by a single tally.

But in their biggest game of the season to date, they cut loose.

The Bobcats from Miami Gardens, Fla., exploded for seven runs in the third inning and cruised to a 10-2 victory over Science and Arts of Oklahoma on Thursday night in front of 1,590 onlookers at Harris Field. A spot in the national championship was up for grabs, yet this ended up being the most stress-free outing of the tournament for St. Thomas.

Now, the Bobcats (49-14) have a shot at the first title in program history and will take on Tennessee Wesleyan, which is seeking its second crown, tonight in the finale of this year’s Series. The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 and the game will air live on SWX and ESPN3.

St. Thomas’ uprising in the third began quietly with a called strikeout. Then Daniel Lowry and Jackie Urbaez drew back-to-back walks, and Erick Delgado slapped a single to drive in the first run of the game.

St. Thomas drew another walk to load the bases, at which point the Drovers pulled starting pitcher Matt Merrill. But the reliever, Rudy Gonzalez, got a rude welcome to the game when Bobcats cleanup hitter Sergio Lopez hammered a grand slam to left.

STU added two more runs before the inning ended and suddenly led 7-0. Nine consecutive Bobcats reached base during the surge — six on hits and three on walks.

“We were a much better hitting team than we’ve showed the last few games,” Bobcats coach Jorge Perez said. “I think we showed that tonight.”

It was the exact opposite story for the Drovers (49-12). They got a single from P.J. Garcia on their second at-bat of the game, but the next 12 USAO batters were retired.

St. Thomas hurler Christopher Coipel gave the Bobcats exactly what they needed — a long and effective pitching start. The right-handed sophomore pitched to contact and allowed just three hits, two runs, two walks and struck out two.

“I can’t express how excited I am to go to the championship,” Coipel said. “I’m still in shock of what I just did, honestly.”

Coipel was out of baseball for two years with an arm injury, Perez said. And coaches decided to skip his scheduled start earlier in the Series because he was dealing with a bit of a knee injury.

“He took it in stride, and he said, ‘Coach, whatever I can do for the team,’” Perez said. “I really think those two extra days did a lot for him.

“And he’s a big-time pitcher in the sense that he won a state championship in high school, and he tends to pitch big in big games. He did a phenomenal job — phenomenal job. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

The Drovers didn’t score their first run until the sixth, when Cristian Laboy led off with a solo homer. But the Bobcats wouldn’t let even that meager gain stand, as Daniel Mondejar answered with a solo blast in the top of the seventh.

Then in the bottom of the seventh, USAO’s Coleton Horner sent a drive to center that would have been a homer off the batter’s eye ... if not for STU center fielder Lowry making a leaping catch at the wall.

The Bobcats’ only other appearance in the title game was in 2015, when they blew a big lead and lost to Lewis-Clark State.

“It’s been four years, and we’ve been talking about how to play in big games and how to take it pitch by pitch and not get ahead of ourselves,” Perez said. “These guys have a good mind set. I really believe in each and every one of them.”

ST. THOMAS SCIENCE AND ARTS

ab r h bi ab r h bi

Urbaez 2b 2 3 1 0 Lorenzo 3b 4 0 0 0

Delgado ss 3 1 1 1 Garcia ss 3 0 1 0

Rivero 3b 3 1 0 1 Sanchez dh 2 0 0 1

Lopez rf 4 1 2 5 Pelayo lf 4 0 0 0

Garabedian 1b 3 1 1 0 Horner c 4 0 0 0

Diaz dh 4 1 2 0 Laureano cf 4 0 0 0

Thompson lf 4 0 1 1 Lafarga 1b 4 0 0 0

Izquierdo ph 1 0 0 0 Alamo 2b 2 1 0 0

Mondejar c 5 1 2 2 Laboy rf 3 1 2 1

Guerra pr 0 0 0 0 McIntosh pr 0 0 0 0

Lowry cf 4 1 0 0

Totals 33 10 10 10 Totals 30 2 3 2

St. Thomas 007 101 100—10 10 1

Science and Arts 000 001 010—2 3 1

St. Thomas ip h r er bb so

Coipel (W, 6-2) 8.0 3 2 2 2 2

Morales 1.0 0 0 0 0 2

Science and Arts ip h r er bb so

Merrill (L, 11-3) 2.1 2 4 4 4 3

Gonzalez 0.0 4 3 3 0 0

Robertson 2.2 2 2 1 1 2

Cuevas 0.2 1 0 0 2 1

Velez 3.1 1 1 1 2 4

Attendance — 1,590.

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