PITTSBURG — The Gorillas opened the floodgates en route to a 16-5 series-clinching win over Nebraska-Kearney in seven innings Friday at Al Ortolani FIeld.
Pittsburg State baseball trailed 5-1 through an inning and a half before the offense exploded for 16 runs over the next five innings to take control of the contest.
Working in relief of starter Ethan Vanderpool, Pitt State’s Nick Brown (1-2) blanked the Lopers over the final five frames, allowing one hit, walking three and striking out 10 to earn the win.
“I felt confident,” Brown said. “My fastball and my slider were both working today. I have been working with Coach (Jason) Immekus and Coach (Aaron) Meade on throwing my slider a little more often. I had a really solid game plan as to what we were trying to do, and with T.J. Martin behind the plate, he made it very simple for me. Today was just a combination of a bunch of people helping me out the past few weeks.”
Vanderpool allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits, and a strikeout in two innings on the mound.
“Ethan wasn’t missing enough bats today, getting his breaking ball over, and they just did a nice job of putting it in play,” Pitt State head coach Tom Myers said. “Nick came in and gave us a good outing to keep us where we were at.”
Friday’s win marked the fourth straight for the Gorillas (16-22, 10-14 MIAA), who have a chance to sweep the series against UNK on Saturday.
“I think we can get really hot and take off like a runaway train,” Brown said of his team’s recent success. “I am excited for this stretch of the season because we give ourselves a chance to win each time we take the field. We’re going to keep coming out and playing as hard as we can, taking it game by game.”
Pitt State’s offense racked up 19 hits on the way to the 16-run output, with six Gorillas finishing with two more hits on the day.
“I thought we did a really good job of flattening the ball out today,” Myers said. “A lot of it came with runners on, hitting behind runners. We’ve talked about it now for about three weeks with this group — if we play the game right, it will reward us. Today was another example of that.”
Trailing by four heading into the last of the second, PSU got run-scoring singles from Brett Macary and Dallas Reed to trim the lead to one, and Chase Kilgore followed with a sacrifice fly to right field to tie the game at 5-all.
“I think it has to do with our approach,” Macary said of his team’s ability to fight from behind. “We didn’t panic today, and put good at-bats together. It led to solid innings for us, and we got it done.”
The Gorillas took their first lead of the game, 8-5, in the third when Ethan Schlesener ripped a three-run home run to left field.
A run-scoring single from Reed, followed by a double down the line in left from Kilgore to score Reed, put PSU up 10-5 to cap off the five-run third.
Pitt State’s Andrew Vogelbaugh hit his first of two Vogel-bombs on a rope over the left-center field wall to leadoff the the bottom of the fourth.
Three batters later, Macary singled home a run to right-center, and Kilgore hit his second double of the day to score Macary and push the Gorillas’ advantage to 13-5.
“One through nine, it doesn’t matter where we are hitting in the lineup, we’re all putting good at-bats together,” Macary said of the offense’s depth up and down the batting order. “Everyone is getting their jobs done and putting pressure on the opposing pitcher.”
The Gorillas kept the offense pushing in the fifth, as Clanin led off the inning with an inside-the-park home run after lining a ball just out of reach of the UNK center fielder, touching them all before beating the throw home.
Vogel followed with the encore, launching a no-doubt home run over the scoreboard to straight away left to give Pitt State back-to-back home runs and a 15-5 lead.
Macary capped the inning with a sacrifice fly to to right field.
GORILLAS AT THE PLATE
Schlesener went 4-for-4 at the dish, with a double, a home run, three RBIs and two runs scored.
Kilgore, Vogelbaugh, Macary and T.J. Martin all had three hits on the day for PSU.
Kilgore doubled three times, drove in three and scored once, while Vogelbaugh had three RBIs and three runs scored.
Macary drove in three and scored twice, with Martin scoring a team-high four runs.
Reed went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs and a run scored.
LOPERS ON THE MOUND
Bradley Brown (2-5) earned the start and took the loss for UNK, giving up nine runs, eight earned, on nine hits, one walk and one strikeout in two innings pitched.
LOPERS AT THE PLATE
Jacob Richardson led Nebraska-Kearney with two hits in three at-bats, scoring twice.
Easton Edmond had a home run, two RBIs and scored once.
The Gorillas and Lopers wrap up the three-game set with a 1 p.m. matchup on Saturday at Al Ortolani Field.
“At this point, every game is going to be important for us,” Myers said. “It’s nice that we are putting ourselves in position to sweep a series against a good ballclub.”
-- Lucas Davis is the sports editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on twitter @LDsportswriter.