NCAA BASEBALL: Mustangs split with Wolves, keep NSIC tournament hopes alive

MARSHALL – Southwest Minnesota State split the first two games of a four-game series with Northern State on Saturday at Alumi Field.

The Mustangs won 11-5 in Game 1, but lost the second game 24-13 after holding a 9-7 lead at one point in Game 2. In order to make the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference tournament, SMSU needs to mimic the results of Bemidji State on Sunday.

Patrick Rients had two home runs on the day to tie SMSU’s single-season home run record with 17.

Mustangs coach Paul Blanchard was pleases with the way his team hit the ball, but knew they made too many mistakes.

“We hit the ball well the first game and hit it fairly decent in the second game too,” Blanchard said. “Then, we gave them 16 free bases in the second game. We didn’t pitch and we didn’t field. The first game was fairly clean, but the second game not so much. This game will drive you nuts.”

In the second contest, the Mustangs used six different pitchers. Reliever Ryan Echalbarger was saddled with the loss while reliever John Eckstein picked up the win for the Wolves in Game 2.

After scoring just five runs in the first game, the Wolves’ lineup produced 22 RBI in the nightcap.

“It was a tough day to pitch,” Northern State coach Dean Berry said. “You have a smaller venue with the wind carrying out. They have good hitters and we have good hitters. I like our lineup. We just have to compete a little bit better on the mound.”

Game 1

Rients and third baseman Jordon Kontz led the way, offensively, with three RBI each, to go with one from shortstop Ben Kroger, first baseman Austin Stubbs, left fielder John Ellis and center fielder Sam Haas. Rients, Stubbs and Ellis all homered for the Mustangs in Game 1.

Robbie Rocamora also homered for the Wolves as he grabbed two RBI to go with two from Alex Cornwell.

Mitch Wurm picked up the win on the mound as he pitched 6 2/3 innings with three strikeouts against two walks.

Colton Boucher suffered the loss, striking out two and walking two while allowing 11 runs on 11 hits in four innings of work.

Game 2

SMSU held a 9-7 lead after four innings before NSU scored two in the fifth, two in the sixth and 13 in the seventh while keeping the Mustangs off the board the rest of the way.

Second baseman Clayton Nutting led the way for the Wolves with five RBI, including a three-run home run. Third baseman Matt Stubbs contributed three RBI while shortstop Eric O’Bryan, Rocamora, Trevor Sporrer and Maurice Rodriguez all drove home two. Catcher Buddy Traxler chipped in one RBI.

Eckstein picked up the win in relief as he pitched 3 1/3 innings and struck out four while walking just one.

Kontz and Rients each picked up three RBI as well two more from Stubbs and Haas and one from Ellis and Jarred Carlson, who drove in a run as a pinch-hitter.

Seven different batters between the two teams recorded home runs in Game 2.

Looking Ahead

The Mustangs will complete regular season play Sunday with their final two games against Northern State. Two wins will earn them a spot in the NSIC tournament.

The outlook going into the tournament is positive coming off the split.

“You don’t usually lose when you put up 13 runs,” Ellis said following Game 2. “We’re hitting the ball really well and, hopefully, that carries over to tomorrow. I’m excited to see what happens. We control our own destiny, so hopefully we get the sweep.”