Lions claim first-round sweep of Bearcats in MIAA tourney

May 4—It took No. 2 Missouri Southern's offense a little time to get going on Saturday at Warren Turner Field as the Lions played in Game 2 of their first-round series against No. 7 Northwest Missouri State in the MIAA tournament.

Trailing 3-0 in the home half of the fifth, MSSU needed to get something going in the second half of the game if it wanted to make a comeback.

It did exactly that as it got five runs and used that as a catapult to a 10-4 win and a series sweep to move on to the second round.

"Credit to our guys. There were five or six at-bats that I thought were really hard at-bats and they battled hard and were able to get hits," MSSU head coach Bryce Darnell said.

The comeback win means MSSU won't have to return Sunday to finish the series and instead gets a day of rest.

"Yeah. 'Cause anything can happen, right — in Game 3? We obviously wanted to try and win it today," Darnell added. "Northwest is scrappy. They're a hard team to strike out."

Hit machine

Garrett Rice was a hit machine all game as he finished a perfect 5-for-5 with three doubles, an infield single and another single. He drove in four runs and scored twice himself.

"Just trying to stick with my approach and do whatever I can to get on base for the guys," Rice said.

The fifth inning began with a fly ball into right field by Drew Townsend. NWMSU's right fielder had to come charging in after playing Townsend deep. The ball hit in Caden Diel's glove but he couldn't hang on as he fell to the turf. The ball was in the air long enough for Townsend to make it all the way to second base after the drop.

Henry Kusiak hit a soft groundball up the middle and would have been out with a clean throw from the Bearcats' shortstop Jacob Selock. Instead, the low throw bounced off the turf and hit first baseman Kaehukai Young in the chest and fell back to the turf for Kusiak to reach safely.

Those two miscues opened the door for MSSU's offense with no outs.

A single into left-center field from Will Doherty drove in Townsend to get the Lions on the board. Garrett Rice followed that up with a two-RBI double into the gap in right center scoring Kusiak as well as Doherty from first base to tie the game at 3-3.

Left-handed hitter Wyatt Morgan continued the rally with a well-placed bunt down the third base line that he turned into a single. With runners on the corners and no outs, Nate Mieszkowsi hit a long fly ball to right field that brought Rice home to give Southern a 4-3 lead.

The last run of the fifth came on a single from Treghan Parker to make it 5-3.

After getting that lead, Darnell went to his bullpen and brought in Kyle Kaempf to replace starter Keaton Anderson. Anderson earned the win with his five innings of work and three runs allowed on six hits, one walk and two hit batters. Anderson is now 4-0 on the year.

Kaempf allowed one run in the seventh on two hits and one walk through 1 2/3 innings.

Fortunately for MSSU, it had already built on its lead in the bottom of the sixth to 8-3 so the NWMSU run in the seventh only made it 8-4.

The sixth inning saw Drew Townsend hit a wall-scraper of a home run that just barely cleared the top of the fence in right field to make it 6-3. Then, a fortunate break occurred for MSSU on a pop fly from Doherty that wound up being a ground-rule double.

Northwest's second baseman Cole Slibowski lost the ball in the sun as he was chasing it. The ball fell untouched on the turf down the right field line and hopped over the fence for a rulebook double.

Rice dug back in and with two strikes he made it his fourth hit of the game with a hard line drive over the right side of the infield that rolled all the way to the fence and scored both runners to make it 8-3.

Darnell talked about his guys taking some good at-bats throughout the game and that one from Rice was one of them.

"He's one of them. He had a tough at-bat and lined one over the second baseman's head that was a super impressive at-bat," Darnell said. "Garrett's been swinging it well the last month or so."

The Lions added two in the eighth inning when Mieszkowski singled to score Rice and Drew Davis doubled Mieszkowski in to make it 10-4.

Northwest got its scoring started with a solo home run from Brady Miles in the fourth inning. It added two in the fifth on a base hit from Young to make it 3-0. The fourth and final run came on another hit from Young in the seventh.

Ryan Williams led the Bearcats with three hits and two runs scored. Young's three RBIs led the team.

Northwest starter Casey Stalzer was tough early on but eventually was knocked out of the game during that five-run fifth inning. He hadn't allowed any offense prior to that and collected two strikeouts through four-plus innings of work.

'Competitive at-bats'

"Their starter is good. He led the conference in strikeouts (97 coming in) so good job by our offense," Darnell said. "He's a good pitcher, man. I think it's more about our competitive at-bats than anything."

Kyle Moore pitched the final 2 1/3 innings and walked one batter while allowing no hits.

The Lions' staff only struck out three of the pesky Bearcat hitters. Anderson struck out two and Kaempf one.

MSSU will get No. 3 Pittsburg State on Thursday to begin the double-elimination second round of the MIAA tournament. The Lions won two of three games against PSU at PSU this season.

"We're going to have to have our best game to try and beat them," Darnell said.

Southern outscored Northwest 22-5 in the two games and will try to keep some of that momentum going into Thursday at 5 p.m. Pittsburg outscored Rogers State 17-2 in its two games this weekend.

"You put in all the work in the fall for the postseason so its nice to start like that," Rice said. "I think we're in a great spot."

PSU has won four in a row and 10 of its last 12; MSSU has won two in a row and nine of its last 12.

The Gorillas are hosting the rest of the tournament and all games from Thursday, May 9, to Saturday, May 11, are in Pittsburg, Kansas.