The stakes were high Wednesday for the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association doubleheader between the Pittsburg State Gorillas and the Missouri Southern Lions at Al Ortolani Field.
The Gorillas entered in the No. 8 spot, on the fence of the postseason, and on a four-game losing streak. The Lions came in No. 4 and if Missouri Southern could hold onto fourth, that would mean hosting the best-of-three first-round series. The top four teams host first-round series in the eight-team field.
Sophomore pitcher George Brandecker nipped that losing streak in the bud with a one-hit shutout in the seven-inning opener, a 5-0 win, but the thrill of victory ended with a 6-4 Southern win for the split.
“Absolutely, first game outstanding by George Brandecker,” Pitt State head coach Matt Murray said. “He certainly set the tone for us and did exactly what he should do and he knows that. He’s got good enough stuff . . . yeah, just a great performance.”
Brandecker, from Lee's Summit North High, pitched a three-hit shutout last Wednesday against Emporia State at Ortolani Field, the Gorillas' previous win before the first game Wednesday. Brandecker lowered his starter-best ERA to 2.52, improved to 5-3 on the season and ran his scoreless innings streak to 14 2/3.
No. 26 was so spot-on that Southern did not reach base on a single walk or hit batter and only reached on a Shaun Hoover single in the third.
Pitt State committed no errors behind Brandecker and he recorded five strikeouts, eight flyouts and eight groundouts in a sharp-as-nails performance.
The Gorillas provided all the necessary offense . . . no, actually, leadoff man Ryan Ventura provided all the necessary offense not long into the game. Ventura hit a solo homer to right leading off the contest and the Gorillas went on to score two in the first, after Tory Stoffregen doubled and scored on a Brad Foss single.
Stoffregen hit a solo blast in the fifth and the Gorillas added RBI singles by Austin Lastimado and Galena native Jacoby Martin.
“Great energy by our entire ballclub,” Murray said. “I felt like we excelled in the first game with defense. Austin Lastimado made wonderful plays at second base and Tory Stoffregen made some nice plays in left field the first game. Just a great team win in game one.”
The first game lasted all of 1 hr., 28 min.
In the nightcap, the hot start belonged to the guests from Joplin, who plated two runs in the first and four in the second.
The Gorilla defense proved to be both its best friend and its own worst enemy in the first two innings.
Errors by Stoffregen and Thomas contributed to the six runs but plays by Lastimado and Martin protected more runs from being scored by the Lions.
Page 2 of 3 - Lastimado made a pair of running catches in short right, one in foul and one in fair territory, and Martin picked off a runner at third in the first and held on tightly at home when Dallas Burke plowed into him in a play that more resembled spring football than baseball. Burke was out as Martin hung on and out as his non-slide brought him an ejection.
Martin displayed a little bit of what made him an All-State quarterback at Galena.
Meanwhile, the Gorillas were retired 1-2-3 in the first two innings, as Drew Noble took advantage of impatient Pitt State hitters.
“Their right-hander did a nice job,” Murray said. “No question but you’re right, we were chasing down and we didn’t make him elevate it, we didn’t put pressure on him by putting baserunners on and putting him in the stretch. He stayed in there for quite a while. It wasn’t a very good approach offensively, probably until the seventh inning.”
It was not until the third Pitt State mustered its first offensive rally. Martin reached on a walk and with one down, Lastimado singled past the second baseman and moved a running Martin into third. Lastimado got caught in a rundown between first and second, which created enough window for Martin to score the first PSU run.
The game settled into a groove and Pitt State reliever Jake Moore threw his hat into the ring of solid defensive plays. Moore, not exactly slender built at 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, deftly covered at first when fellow senior, first baseman Ryan Bilovesky gravitated too far toward second baseman Lastimado on a grounder. Lastimado hit Moore in stride for the out.
Noble walked Thomas and Bilovesky to start the seventh. Foss drove in Thomas with a single. Bilovesky and Foss advanced on wild pitches. Bilovesky scored on a Cody Ball 6-3 groundout. Noble was pulled after 6 1/3 innings and Southern brought in Brett Abell. With one down and Foss on third, first baseman Hoover threw out Foss at home on a Martin squeeze. Abell walked Bordewick to put runners on first and second but Lastimado flew out to right.
In the eighth, Abell struck out Ventura and Stoffregen, both down swinging, but Abell walked Thomas. Cleanup man Bilovesky walked in nearly an instant replay of the seventh but with the only difference being two outs in the eighth. Abell loaded the bases with a walk of Foss, his third straight free pass. Abell hit Ball on the first pitch and the game was 6-4.
With the bases full and two down, Martin was called out looking at the third strike. Abell struck out three and walked three in the same frame.
Southern retired the first two Pitt State hitters in the ninth — Abell strikeout and leaping catch by shortstop Thomas Wilson. Abell walked Ventura and Stoffregen, keeping the Gorillas alive long enough for Abell to strike Thomas out in three pitches.
Page 3 of 3 - Pitt State moved to 24-20 overall and 22-18 MIAA on the season with a three-game series coming up this weekend against Northwest Missouri. This Saturday and Sunday set closes out the regular season.
Pittsburg State 5, Missouri Southern 0 (7 innings)
MSSU 000 000 0 — 0 1 0
PSU 200 120 X — 5 10 0
David Reese, Ryan Bates (4), Josh Engler (6) and Sam Ryan. George Brandecker and Jacoby Martin. WP: Brandecker (5-3). LP: Reese (4-6). 2B: Tory Stoffregen. HR: Ryan Ventura, Stoffregen. SB: Ryan Bilovesky. CS: Ventura. HBP: Cody Ball.
Missouri Southern 6, Pittsburg State 4 (9 innings)
MSSU 240 000 000 — 6 13 0
PSU 001 000 210 — 4 2 2
Drew Noble, Brett Abell (7) and Sam Ryan. Eric Hansen, Brett Cares (2), Jake Moore (5), Gonzolo Gonzalez (6), James Fitzgearlds (7), Ryan McKay (8) and Jacoby Martin. E: Tory Stoffregen, Evan Thomas. 2B: Will Wagner. SB: Ryan 2; Thomas. CS: Michael McCoy. HBP: Zack Steadman; Cody Ball.