Eagles Claim Heart Title with Thrilling 6-5 win over MNU
Ozark, Mo. - The No. 1 Central Methodist baseball program swept the regular season and conference tournament titles with a thrilling 6-5 victory over No. 3 seeded MidAmerica Nazarene in the championship series Tuesday afternoon in Ozark, Mo.
Central claims its second tournament championship since 2016 and its third overall title in the last six seasons. The Pioneers forced a winner-take-all game Tuesday after a 10-5 victory over the Eagles Monday afternoon.
In the series finale, MNU jumped out in front first with a run in the second and two runs in the third to take a 3-0 lead. CMU began chipping away at the three-run deficit with a pair of runs in the fourth. Logan McDonald and Grant Victor started the inning with back-to-back singles. Max McCay then layed down a sacrifice bunt to advance both runners 90 feet.
Following a strikeout, a wild pitch by the MNU pitcher went to the backstop, giving McDonald enough time to dash home for the first run of the day. Deshawn Cole then sent a hard hit ball to the pitcher's mound, which was bobbled, leaving all runners safe and scoring Victor.
The Eagles then took the lead with a pair of runs in the fifth. With two outs, McDonald and Victor drew back-to-back walks before Adrian Martinez put a ball in play which was misplayed at third to load the bases. Devon Garcia would single to shallow centerfield to bring around McDonald and Victor, giving CMU a 4-3 lead.
MNU continued to battle, tying the game at 4-4 in the sixth. Both teams exchanged runs in the seventh, making for an exciting finish in the final two innings. After a scoreless eighth, CMU's Max McCay provided the game-winning hit, slicing a ball back up the middle to score McDonald from second.
Holding a 6-5 lead, Central battled through a single, a hit-by-pitch, and a defensive interference call which put the Pioneers just a hit away to win the game. With two outs, Heart Pitcher of the Year Nick Merkel struck out the final MNU batter to clinch the tourney title for CMU.
McDonald and Kenny Otero each picked up three hits, while Victor and Grant collected two. Overall, the CMU offense finished the evening with 12 hits and five walks.
Dylan Brister got the start on the bump, tossing 2.1 innings and giving up only one earned run on four hits. Tyler Vicars pitched the next 2.2 innings before Beau Atkins tossed the next three, finishing with two strikeouts. Atkins would earn his first win of the season, while Merkel earned the save.
For their efforts in the tournament, Victor, McCay, McDonald, Mason Schwellenbach, and Atkins were named to the all-tournament team.
Central will look to national championship play in the Opening Round, set to take place May 17-20 in O'Fallon, Mo. The Eagles will find out their opponents during the NAIA Baseball Selection Show Thursday, May 13 at 4:00 p.m. on the PlayNAIA Facebook page.