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On the National Stage

The school baseball team, circa 1905

There are very few college sports dynasties that can match what the Lewis-Clark State College baseball team has done over the last three-plus decades. The dominant programs of Connecticut women’s basketball and the UCLA men’s basketball teams of the 1970s certainly have had major runs, but they can’t match the 19 NAIA national championships the Warriors have won over the past 34 years.

No NAIA school can match what the Warriors have done. In fact, only the men’s track team at Arkansas with its 20 NCAA indoor titles since 1984, can top the Warriors’ feat. In NAIA baseball, only three programs outside of LC have won more than two titles with Grand Canyon having the most of that group with four.

So how did LCSC become such a national power?

Harris Field in 1970

Well, Lewiston has always been considered a baseball town. The American Legion baseball program, the Lewis-Clark Twins, have won more Idaho state championships than any other program, and the Lewis-Clark Broncs, a Class A farm team, drew large crowds during 1952-74, despite being located in the smallest city to have a professional baseball team at the time. The team was affiliated with six different major league clubs and was an independent four times.

Two coaches, however, took the Warriors to new heights. LCSC officially started baseball as a school-sanctioned sport in 1962 and hovered around the .500 mark during the first decade. Ramon Hooker became coach in 1971, and quickly turned things around, posting records of 35-16 and 48-11 in his final two seasons. His final year in 1976, the Warriors played second in the NAIA World Series, which was the first time it qualified for the tournament.

Coach Ed Cheff

Hooker stepped down and was replaced by Ed Cheff, who had an amazing 34-year run as head coach. He led the Warriors to 16 national titles and posted an overall record of 1,705-430-2 for a .799 winning percentage. His win total ranks second only to Gene Stephenson’s 1,724 wins at Wichita State, which is the most wins with one program in all of college baseball. Cheff’s win total also ranks fourth all-time among all levels of college baseball coaches.

During the 1980s and early 90s, the Warriors schedule was filled with NCAA Division 1 schools. The Warriors had regular season series with Washington State and Gonzaga, hosted a six-team Banana Belt Tournament, and regularly played in the University of Hawaii’s Rainbow Classic.  The Warriors even beat Wichita State, which won the NCAA national title the previous year.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the NCAA changed the way it considered teams for postseason play, punishing teams that lose to lower division levels. Just like that, NCAA schools refused to play the Warriors because they had nothing to gain, but plenty to lose.

Lewis-Clark State College claims its first of now 19 national titles in 1984

Still, the baseball team didn’t miss a beat. Along with Cheff’s 16 national titles in a 25-year span, the team won at least 40 games for 30 straight seasons. LCSC also had had 138 players selected in the Major League Draft, numerous others sign as free agents, and has had 16 make it to the major leagues.

This past season, the Warriors won their third straight Series title under coach Jeremiah Robbins, who has played in the national title game in all five years he’s been coach. The Warriors also had seven players drafted and one more sign as a free-agent in 2017, which marked the most players the program has sent to the minor leagues in one summer.

As well as winning national titles, the school is the host for the Avista-NAIA World Series, which begins the Friday of Memorial Day weekend each year. LCSC has hosted the tournament 26 times, including the last 18.

2017 national championship (Coach Jeremiah Robbins on far right)