The Central Missouri Mules claimed the MIAA Baseball Tournament championship with timely hitting and solid pitching as they defeated the top-seeded Emporia State Hornets in the one-game final, 4-3, Sunday evening (May 11) at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
The Mules (41-15) earned their 13th MIAA Tournament championship in 15 years and will be making their 15th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Division II Tournament thanks to the automatic berth which goes to the conference tourney winner.
Down 2-1 going into the top of the 5th, senior CF Clay Weatherford — UCM’s nine-hole hitter — stroked his third home run of the season, a solo shot with one out.
The Mules took the lead in the sixth on a sacrifice fly to left by junior DH Mike Hallam. Emporia State (47-8) avoided more damage when senior RHP Brock Nehls relieved starting senior RHP Richard Timbrook (6-1) with the bases loaded and one out and struck out the first two batters he faced to keep the score at 3-2.
A two-out solo shot by senior RF Blaine Rutledge in seventh added insurance for UCM. It was needed, as the Hornets answered in the bottom of the inning when junior 1B Caleb Williamson scored on a fielder’s choice grounder by senior LF Brian Majors.
Like ESU in the sixth, the Mules stymied further progress by the Hornets when junior RHP Chris Matlock enduced a pop up from the newly-crowned MIAA single-season home run leader, senior RF Eric Shortell, to strand runners at first and third.
Matlock went on to pitch two more innings and allowed one hit to preserve the win for freshman RHP Matt Curtiss and pick up his ninth save of the season. Curtis allowed just four hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings.
UCM grabbed a quick 1-0 lead in the first with a single from senior 3B Iain Dykens which plated junior LF Will Feil, who led off the game by getting hit by a pitch.
ESU answered in the bottom half of the frame, as senior C Keith Hernandez stroked a one-out run-scoring single to left to tie the score. Junior 2B Anthony Dreiling then executed a squeeze bunt which scored the go-ahead run for a 2-1 lead.
The six-team NCAA Division II Central Regional field, as well as the site of the regional, is scheduled to be announced later Sunday. UCM is joined by automatic qualifiers Nebraska-Omaha from the North Central Conference and Concordia-St. Paul (Minn.) from the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.