NCAA BASEBALL: Mustangs rally for split against Minnesota State

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Southwest Minnesota State rallied with four runs in the top of the ninth to earn a 7-4 come-from-behind victory over Minnesota State in Game 2 of a Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference doubleheader played at Sioux City North High School on Friday.

The Mavericks are ranked among the top four in four different national polls. MSU won the opener 3-1.

“Mankato is a very good team,”?Southwest Minnesota State head coach Paul Blanchard said. “I felt that we played well enough and, especially, pitched well enough to compete with them.”

The four games were originally scheduled to be a home-and-home series in Mankato and Marshall, but were moved due to poor field conditions.

In Game 2, the Mavericks (13-4, 1-1 NSIC) used an RBI double in the first, a solo home run in the second and pushed across unearned runs in both the third and sixth innings to build a 4-0 lead off of Mustang starter Jimmy Callahan.

MSU maintained its four-run lead into the seventh when SMSU (10-8, 1-1 NSIC) started its comeback with the aid of a Mavericks’ error. With one out, Austin Stubbs reached via walk and moved to second on a wild pitch. Patrick Rients reached first on a fielding error by MSU first baseman Stetson Olson to put runners on the corners. Following a strikeout for the second out, Sam Haas stroked a two-run double to cut the deficit to 4-2, before Tanner Neale followed with a run-scoring triple to make the score 4-3.

Following a scoreless eighth inning by Callahan, the Mustangs completed their comeback in the top of ninth. Stubbs started the rally with a single and was moved to second on a walk to pinch-hitter Josh Hanson. Brendan Alfson followed with a sac bunt to move both runners into scoring position.

A wild pitch scored Stubbs to tie the game and move pinch-runner Mason Schnaible up to third base. Haas was walked to put runners on the corners, before another wild pitch scored Schnaible and give SMSU its first lead of the game at 5-4. After a strikeout for the second out, Engels came through with an RBI single to score Haas and make the score 6-4, before Ben Korger drilled an RBI double to give the Mustangs a 7-4 advantage.

“We were able to string some hits together and that error gave us four outs in the eighth inning,” Blanchard said. “We stayed with Mankato as long as we could. I think this helped our confidence because we showed ourselves what we are capable of doing.”

Callahan came out for the ninth inning, but a leadoff double summoned Alfson into the game to secure the victory. The right-handed closer wrapped up his third save of the season retiring all three Mavericks he faced and snap SMSU’s 18-game losing streak to MSU. The Mustangs last victory in the series came in May 2009 at the NCAA region tournament in Grand Junction, Colo.

Callahan tossed eight-plus innings – the longest start by an SMSU pitcher this season – allowing 10 hits, four runs (two earned) with two strikeouts. He also walked two and hit three MSU batters.

Stubbs led the Mustang offense going 2-for-3 with two runs scored, while Haas scored two runs and added two RBIs.

In Game 1, the Mavericks started quickly in the home half of the first as Todd Standish lead off the frame with a solo home run off of SMSU starter Steven Wehr. The Mavericks then added to the lead in the bottom of the second on an RBI single and an RBI ground out to make the score 3-0.

The game remained 3-0 until the seventh when the Mustangs finally got on the board. Jon Ellis lead off the inning with a walk and scored moments later on a double by Stubbs to make the score 3-1, but the rally would end with two strikeouts and a ground out.

Jason Hoppe (5-0), a first team All-American last season and the 2014 preseason NSIC Pitcher of the Year, tossed the complete game four-hitter for MSU, recording nine strikeouts with one walk.

Wehr (2-1) suffered the loss for SMSU, tossing all six innings and giving up three runs on eight hits with five strikeouts and no walks. It was the first game this season SMSU did not allow walk.

Stubbs, Rients, Jordon Kontz and Engels each had one hit for the Mustangs in Game 1.

The two teams conclude the four-game series at 1 p.m. today with the Mustangs being the home team for both games.

“With us being the home team (today) and if we keep the score close, we might be able to pull out a victory,” Blanchard said. “Mankato is still the No. 2-ranked team in the country for a reason.”