NCAA BASEBALL: Mustangs sweep Wolves to win third straight tilt

TUCSON, Ariz. – Southwest Minnesota State extended its winning streak to three in a row with a non-conference doubleheader sweep of Northern State (7-5 and 4-3) on Monday at the Kino Sports Complex.

The Mustangs, 6-4 overall and 5-1 on their 12-game trip to Tucson, have today off before returning to action Wednesday with a non-conference doubleheader versus Bemidji State at 11 a.m.

In Game 1, Jon Ellis and Jordon Kontz each had two hits to lead SMSU’s eight-hit attack, while Ellis also added a pair of RBI.

Mustangs starter Mitch Wurm (1-1) pitched into the seventh inning to earn the victory, allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.

SMSU jumped out to a 5-0 lead after one inning with the aid of an Northern State error. Ben Korger started the frame with a hit by pitch and moved to second after Wolves shortstop Eric O’Bryan dropped a pop up by Kontz.

Ellis then stepped up and smashed a double to center field to make the score 1-0. Following a strikeout and a pop out, Brandan Alfson drilled a clutch two-run single, making the score 3-0. Sam Haas then walked before Jarred Carlson ripped a two-run double down the left field line to extend the Mustang lead to 5-0.

The Wolves scored single runs in the third and fourth innings to trim the lead to 5-2, but SMSU got those runs back in the home half of the fourth on an RBI single by Ellis and an RBI groundout by Austin Stubbs.

The Mustangs took the 7-2 lead into the seventh inning before NSU rallied with three runs in the final frame. An error, triple, single and walk scored two runs for the Wolves and brought SMSU relief pitcher Hayden Willner into the game with runners on first and second.

Northern State’s Matt Stubbs greeted Willner with a double to left field to score one run, but Mustangs left fielder Elliott Serbus fired a throw to shortstop Ben Korger, whose relay throw to Tanner Neale at the plate prevented a Wolves runner from scoring from first base and kept the score 7-5.

Willner recorded the second out on a pop out, before allowing a single to put NSU runners at the corners. Steven Wehr entered the game for the Mustangs and recorded a fly out to seal the win and earn his first career save.

The Mustangs worked to improve their pitching during the offseason and its payed off early-on.

“We’re throwing enough strikes to keep us in games at the end and, fortunately, were coming out on top in some of them,” SMSU head coach Paul Blanchard said. “We are deeper on the mound this season and that has helped us.”

In Game 2, Alfson (2-0) tossed six strong innings to lead the Mustangs to the victory, while Joe Axelson worked the seventh to record his first career save. Alfson gave up three runs (two earned), on six hits with seven strikeouts and did not walk a batter.

Patrick Rients started the SMSU scoring in the second inning, coming home on a wild pitch. Carlson followed two batters later with an RBI single to score Stubbs and make the score 2-0.

Northern State scored an unearned run in the third, but the Mustangs answered in the top of the fourth to regain a two-run advantage. With one out, Haas reached on a bunt-single and, with two outs, stole second. Ryan Engels then smacked a clutch RBI single to give SMSU a 3-1 lead.

The Mustangs added to their lead in the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Stubbs, scoring Rients, who started the inning with a triple.

The Wolves answered with a two-out, two-run double in the sixth inning to cut the SMSU lead to 4-3 heading into the seventh. In the bottom of seventh, NSU put the tying run on second with a leadoff double, but Axelson coaxed a fly out and then closed the game with a pair of strikeouts to secure the victory.

Ellis, Engels, Rients and Carlson all ended the game with two hits apiece as part of SMSU’s 11-hit attack.

Playing in sunny Tuscon, Ariz., the Mustangs have been able to take advantage of the factors the fields provide.

“We’ve been hitting the ball well,” Blanchard said. “There aren’t any clouds up here, so fly balls are dropping when they normally wouldn’t. It’s more of an offensive park down here with fast fields and its definitely playing itself out.”