Playing in its first NCAA Division II Tournament game in 39 years, Missouri S&T’s baseball team returned to the national stage in style – taking down defending national champion Southern Indiana 2-0 on a brilliant pitching performance by junior Zack Gronek.
Gronek blanked the Screaming Eagles on five hits to give S&T its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory; the Miners had appeared in just one previous national tournament and lost both games on that occasion in 1972. But on Thursday, Gronek allowed more than one USI baserunner in just one inning and the Eagles had only three runners in scoring position all day.
After four scoreless innings of play, the Miners broke on top in the fifth. Zach Carter led off the inning with a double off the fence in right center and was sacrificed to third by Andy Hall. Nick Burke followed by chopping a ball in front of the plate and when USI catcher Jarrod Rose threw to first, Carter broke for home and beat Adam Enright’s return throw to give S&T the lead.
The Miners missed a chance to extend the lead in the sixth after Will McCord drew a leadoff walk and went to third on a one-out, hit-and-run single by Josh Caffrey. Ben Pieper followed with a hard grounder to third on which McCord broke for home, but was tagged out in a rundown; S&T would not score in that inning.
But in the seventh, the Miners put together a rally with two outs. Burke singled to center, then after moving to second on a balk by Eagle pitcher Trevor Leach, advanced to third on Clint Wobbe’s single to left. McCord followed with an opposite field single to score Burke with S&T’s second run.
Gronek pitched out of a situation in the seventh when he gave up a two-out single to Bryan Chestnut – who ended up at third after a stolen base and an error – by fanning Rose, then worked around a one-out hit in the eighth and a hit batter with two outs in the ninth, getting Chestnut to line out to Burke at short to end the contest.
The win improved Gronek’s record to 10-1 on the season as he struck out seven and allowed just the five hits to lower his earned run average to 2.16 on the year. The win was also the 30th of the season for S&T, now 30-17 overall, as it extended its school record mark for victories in a season.
S&T outhit Southern Indiana (37-18) 6-5 in the contest, with six different players getting hits.
Missouri S&T will return to play Friday at 7 p.m.