TITLE PEDIGREE: Missouri Southern tops Central Missouri 18-16 in MIAA championship

May 11—PITTSBURG, Kan. — After four hours, 34 runs and 31 hits between both teams, Missouri Southern State University hoisted the MIAA championship trophy for the first time since 2015.

It required a pedigree and a type of grit one would expect in a title game on Saturday afternoon. The two offenses of No. 1 University of Central Missouri (47-8) and No. 2 MSSU (42-13) took turns all game putting runs up on the board. The Lions were able to outlast the bats of the Mules in an 18-16 final score.

"We've been second to those guys quite a few times since 2015. It's nice to win. I thought our competitive fire was burning pretty hot today," MSSU head coach Bryce Darnell said. "But, Central Missouri, let's not lose sight that they played a great game, too. ... And Laif (Hultine), he was the difference."

Hultine came in during the bottom of the sixth inning with one out and MSSU behind 16-15 after UCM had rallied for six runs off of Kyle Moore in the frame.

Hultine got two outs with a strikeout and a ground out to slam the door on the rally in the sixth. He went on to get the final 11 outs of the game and struck out the side in the eighth inning and also struck out UCM's all-tournament outfielder Jack Schark to end the game.

"11 hard outs. We were talking in here (dugout) like, 'How are we going to get a 0? We'll take a 1.' Laif looked good. I'm proud of him," Darnell said.

The redshirt-junior recorded the final seven outs of Friday's win over Washburn. He talked about the extra work to close out games and help the team earn a title.

"It was going to take everybody today. I was trying to focus on getting one out at a time and not get too far ahead of myself," Hultine said. "It feels really good. It just feels awesome. This is everything you dream of. When it's finally here you don't really know what to do. I'm just very grateful for my teammates, for God, for my family and everyone that's supported us."

It took six different pitchers for the Lions and a little bit of offense from everyone in the lineup.

The offense all started with solo home runs in the second inning from Will Doherty and then Nate Mieszkowski that tied the game at 2-2. Mieszkowski's shot went over the scoreboard in left field as he hit what some may refer to as a "moon shot."

Darnell talked about the positive sign getting a home run and single from Mieszkowski along with a groundout that produced a run from his veteran second baseman who hasn't swung the bat quite as well as his career has shown. He drove in two runs Saturday and scored twice.

Mieszkowski as well as Chayton Beck showed some of that added production down near the bottom of the lineup. Beck was 1 for 2 with three walks and his lone hit was a double. He scored twice as well.

Not only were the two teams at the top of the conference and region coming into Saturday's game, the Mules were ranked second in the entire country and the Lions seventh. This was a matchup of two top baseball teams in Division II.

Central Missouri was rolling to start the game with two runs each inning through the first four and led 8-6 after four innings of play. The last three innings saw the Mules get blanked as Hultine held them in check.

"It was a back-and-forth affair with a relatively — I don't want to make it about umpiring — but, tight zone," UCM head coach Kyle Crookes said. "Everyone dealt with the same one (zone). And we gave them some freebies. I think we made three or four errors. Those guys did a great job."

What Crookes saw was a zone that wasn't favoring pitches low in the zone. There were only five strikeouts for MSSU pitchers and Hultine got them all. The Mules only struck out four Lions in the entire game. Only two of the game's nine strikeouts were called by the umpire. The other seven were on swing-and-misses.

MSSU tallied 15 hits and drew 11 walks in the game altogether. The offense was led by Ethan Clark's three hits in six at-bats. He drove in four runs and scored twice. Henry Kusiak helped to lead the way going 3 for 5 with four RBIs and three runs scored. Kusiak had a solo home run in the third inning that went off the light pole in left-center field.

"In playoff baseball it takes everybody and it takes a special performance usually," Kusiak said. "It took every hitter, everyone on the bench and it took Laif (Hultine) stepping up ..."

UCM was able to collect 16 hits and nine walks.

Missouri Southern will move on to the NCAA Central Region tournament and will likely host one of the regional fields. The top eight teams make it and four teams will go to two different sites with the top two seeds hosting. UCM was No. 1 in the region coming into this week and MSSU was No. 2.

UCM's top offensive weapon, Brennen van Breusegen, talked about the matchup and where the Mules are at heading into the NCAA playoffs.

"Proud of our guys and how we competed and fought our way back to be in the championship after losing the first game," he said. "We're in the best spot possible right now. Especially, losing that game puts a chip on our shoulder. It's a good team and I'd love to see them again."

The teams could cross paths once again if they both win their regional titles next weekend. That would make them meet in the Super Regional in two weeks.