Five RBIs on two homeruns from David Harris and 10 combined strikeouts from James Baune and Justin Thomas propelled the No.3-seed Southern Arkansas baseball team to a 6-1 win over No.4-seed Missouri Western in the opening game of the 2013 Central Region Tournament in Mankato, Minn. on Thursday afternoon.
In the game, both Baune and Harris were able to set the tone for the Muleriders (41-15) early on as Baune threw a scoreless top of the first and struck out two batters while Harris gave SAU an early 2-0 lead when he hit a two-run shot out left field in the bottom of the frame.
The momentum of that solid first inning would carry over the next two innings as the Muleriders maintained a two-run lead.
In the fourth inning, the Griffons (40-11) would put together a threatening rally off of Baune (13-1) as they got three consecutive singles to load the bases with no outs. Despite the significant jam, Baune would pitch out of it without surrendering a run as he got a strikeout, a fielder's choice and a harmless flyout to centerfield to end the inning.
The Griffons would threaten once more off of Baune in their next at-bats in the fifth. In that inning, the first two batters reached bases and a sacrifice bunt advanced the runners into scoring position with only one out. Just as he did in the inning prior, however, Baune would escape the jam without allowing a run as he struck out the next two batters.
After Baune worked out of the fifth, Jackson McCurdy hit a solo homerun out to left field in the bottom of the frame to extend the Mulerider lead out to 3-0. McCurdy's blast was the Muleriders' second of the game off of MWSUs' starter Brandon Simmons (11-1). Prior to Thursday's game, Simmons, the recently-named MIAA Pitcher of the Year, had only given up one homerun.
Now with a three-run lead, Baune would come back out to the mound and retire the next six batters in order as he worked through the sixth and seventh innings scoreless.
Baune would lose his shutout bid with one out in the top of the eighth as the Griffons once more strung together three consecutive singles off of Baune. After giving up the RBI hit, Baune would be pulled in favor of Thomas. Thomas, the all-time and single-season record holder for saves, would work out of the eighth inning with the two-run lead intact as he struck out the two batters faced.
Looking to get the Griffons' run back, the Muleriders would start the bottom of the eighth inning on a bunt single by Jason Dahl. A batter later, Chris Quinn attempted a sacrifice bunt that went back to Simmons on the mound. Upon fielding the bunt, Simmons looked to get the lead runner Dahl, but Simmons' throw was low at second base and it pulled the short stop of the bag to allow Dahl to reach safely. On the very next pitch, Harris would give the Muleriders three more runs of insurance as he belted his second homerun of the game out to left field.
Now with a five-run advantage, 6-1, Thomas came back out in the top of the ninth and shut the door with little drama as he retired the side in order.
The Muleriders will now take on the winner of No. 2-seed Central Missouri and No. 5-seed St. Cloud State. That game is scheduled to be played on Friday night starting at 7:00 p.m.