The ninth-ranked Mules Baseball team jumped out to a 6-0 lead after three innings then held off a late Emporia State rally to down the Hornets 6-3 on Friday night at Joe Faber Field. With the win, the Mules advance to the winner’s bracket final on Friday night against Minnesota State.
UCM (40-13) struck first in the top of the second inning when Bennett Oliver led off with an opposite field home run to left. It was his 23rd home run of the season, tying the MIAA single-season record set by Eric Shortell of Emporia State in 2008 and Dean Long of ESU last year. The Mules made it 2-0 in that inning when Jackson Schnurbusch doubled home Cole Distler with two outs.
The Mules put together a big two-out rally in the third to open a 6-0 lead. The first two batters of the inning were retired, but Jake Alexander was hit by a pitch and scored on Oliver’s double to left center to make it 3-0. Derek Cornell singled home Oliver to make it 4-0 and Cole Distler put the finishing touches on the inning when he smacked a line drive over the wall in right for a two-run home run.
The Hornets (38-18) got on the board in the sixth with a two-out rally of their own. With a runner on first and two outs ESU got a single and then a double from Daniel LaMunyon to bring home the first run and make it 6-1. The Hornets had runners at second and third in the inning, but Ethan Westphal (10-2) got Ryan McBroom to strike out swinging to end the inning.
ESU cut the lead to three in the eighth inning plating a pair of runs. Dalton Wheat led off the inning with a solo home run to right to make it 6-2. Westphal struck out Jonny Hodges, but then walked Evan Koehler. Lucas Williams came out of the bullpen and walked the first batter he face to put runners on first and second with only one out. LaMunyon then struck out swinging, but McBroom singled to drive the second run of the inning. ESU had runners at second and third, but Williams struck out Wade Hanna to keep it a three-run cushion for UCM.
The Mules had runners at first and second with one out in the top of the ninth, but were unable to push any insurance runs across the board. In the ninth, Grant Gavin got a strikeout and a popup from the first two batters and was ahead of Wheat 0-2, but hit him with the third pitch. He then got Hodges to ground in to a fielder’s choice to end the inning and send the Mules on in the winner’s bracket.
Westphal allowed three runs on eight hits over 7.1 innings pitched. He walked just one and struck out nine to earn his 10th win of the season. His nine strikeouts in the game gave him 99 for the season, which ties him for fifth most in a single-season in UCM history with Mark Carey (2008).
Gavin recorded his 11th save of the season, tying him with Nick Webber (2005) and Chris Matlock (2008) for the third most in a UCM single-season. He now has 14 career saves, tied for sixth most all-time in Mules program history with Casey Castrop (1994-97).
Oliver finished the game 2-for-4 with a double, home run, two RBI and two runs scored; while Distler went 2-for-2 with two driven in and two runs scored.
The Mules reached the 40-win plateau for the 18th time in school history and the 15th time in the last 18 seasons.
The Mules will face Minnesota State on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Faber Field in the winner’s bracket final. The winner will advance to Monday’s championship game with the loser falling in to the loser’s bracket final on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.
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