In a weekend series with Missouri Southern it easily could've had a chance to sweep, the Northwest Missouri State baseball team ended up getting swept instead.
The Bearcats dropped the first two games Friday, one that went extra innings and another in which they blew a three-run lead in the seventh, before getting pounded 11-4 in the series finale Saturday.
Northwest (9-21, 7-18) has now lost five straight following a three-game road sweep of Truman State and sits 6.5 games back of eighth place. With 18 games left in league play, the Bearcats find themselves in the familiar position of having to go on a tear down the stretch in order to make the conference tournament.
"You look at the two ball games yesterday, we competed really well all day," said Northwest Missouri State head baseball coach Darin Loe. "You look at the wins and losses, those were a couple we really wanted to get, but at the same time we got to look at what's in front of us. We got Washburn mid-week and certainly I think this is a team that can make a run in the last 20 ball games. That's what we got to focus on."
Winners of eight straight, third-place Missouri Southern (19-11, 15-9) scored the first five runs of game three and added six from the sixth inning on that prevented the Bearcats from getting closer than four.
The Lions' 11 runs and 17 hits exceeded their game one and two totals combined in those areas.
Clean-up hitter Sam Ryan, Tee Heisel and Dane Kolkmeyer each had three hits. Lead-off man Michael McCoy, Will Wagner and Shaun Hoover had two apiece.
Southern had five doubles in the game, two from Ryan, but did not homer in the entire series.
Northwest starter Chase Anderson (3-4) surrendered five runs on nine hits in four innings of work. Right-handed reliever Brian Schmiedt gave up the next two runs in 1 2/3 innings and lefty Blane Reutter allowed the last four over 3 1/3 innings.
Northwest didn't score its first run until the fifth inning and only had one hit through the first four, failing to make Missouri Southern freshman starter Payton Walker pay for early control problems.
He walked the first two batters of the game and another in the second inning, but in both frames, the Bearcats stranded runners at second and third.
Clean-up hitter J.J. Baccari and Eric Swain struck out to end the first inning threat and consecutive come-backers by Alex Singleton and lead-off man Ryan Abernathy got Walker out of trouble in the second.
Walker made it through six innings and got the victory.
"We had some opportunities," said Loe. "I think if we capitalize on those it's probably a different ball game. We're getting to their bullpen a little bit sooner, but we didn't."
Page 2 of 4 - The Lions jumped ahead 2-0 in the top of the first, scoring both runs after there were two outs and no one on. Ryan's first double scored Dallas Burke from first base and Heisel drove in the second run with an RBI single.
That score held until the fourth when the Lions added three more.
The first four batters reached in the inning, two on bunt singles.
Ryan led off with a double off the glove of a diving Abernathy in center. Heisel bunted his way on board and Wagner followed with a single to make it 3-0. After Anderson recorded consecutive outs, McCoy came through with a two-out, two-run single for a 5-0 lead.
"I don't think Chase got hit hard at all," said Loe. "They just put balls in play and they found holes."
Northwest broke through in the bottom half of the inning, scoring its first run on a two-out single from Brandon Huske.
The Lions answered right back with two in the top half of the sixth to lead 7-1. Four of the first five batters in the inning had hits, and the fourth one finished Schmiedt's day.
Northwest trimmed the deficit back to four with two runs in the bottom of the inning.
Paul Johnson had an RBI double and Eric McGlauflin drove in a run with a hard groundout to third.
Southern used doubles to each gap by Heisel and Wagner to score three runs in the top of the seventh that made it 10-3.
Baccari led off the bottom of the eighth with a home run—his third of the year and the only one of the series by either team. The Bearcats threatened further off Southern's first reliever used in the series, but McGlauflin flew out to the wall in left to end the inning.
The Lions tacked on another insurance run in the top of the ninth with a single by Hoover, and lefty reliever Bo Bergen got Steven Garber to flight out with the bases loaded in the bottom half to end the game.
"We started playing better baseball late in the game and getting better swings," said Loe. "If you can just keep it a closer ball game, when you have the bases loaded and you're playing for three runs instead of seven, it's a totally different game."
Game 2: Missouri Southern 4, Northwest Missouri 3
Northwest Missouri State starter Marcus Garrett carried a one-hit shutout and a three-run lead into the seventh when disaster struck.
With the help of two errors, Southern needed only two hits to score four runs (three unearned) and go in front 4-3.
Page 3 of 4 - The rally began when Huske mis-handled a one-hopper to short. Three batters later, Singleton let a line drive single to right go through his legs all the way to the fence. Two runs scored on the play and the tying run got to third base.
"Both of them were routine balls," said Loe. "We're pressing a little bit trying to make those plays. They just got away from us. At the same time, that's only two base runners. We got to be able to overcome those things and not give up a three-run lead in the seventh."
The Lions tied it on a groundout to short by McCoy and Thomas Wilson drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out single to right.
Northwest went down in order in the bottom half of the inning, completing a shell-shocking collapse.
Garrett (2-2) absorbed the loss despite giving up just one earned run in seven innings. He struck out four and walked four. Southern starter Ryan Bates (3-1) also gave up just one earned run over seven innings and walked none.
The Bearcats were shutout over the last five innings after scoring three times in the first two. Their two second inning runs were both unearned thanks to two Southern errors.
Huske and Baccari each had doubles, the only extra-base hits of the game. Singleton had an RBI single in the second.
Game 1: Missouri Southern 4, Northwest Missouri 2 (9 innings)
A two-out, two-run single by Heisel in the top of the ninth decided a game that was extended by a clutch outfield assist an inning prior.
With runners at first and second and one out, McGlauflin ended a streak of clutch-hitting futility by both teams with a single off the second baseman's glove through the right side. Burke came up throwing from right and delivered a perfect strike home to get Northwest pinch-runner Zach Douglas.
"We're sending him all the way," said Loe. "We got it through the infield and he comes up and makes a perfect throw. It's a bang-bang-play at the plate and unfortunately it didn't go our way. I'd send him every time."
Northwest still had a chance to win it that inning, but pinch-hitter Luke Lawyer struck out with runners at second and third.
Northwest closer Nathaniel Horton (0-2) began the ninth by hitting McCoy with a pitch. He moved to second on a wild pitch and then to third on a passed ball off the glove of freshman catcher Derek Meyer who was inserted prior to the inning.
Heisel's two-out, game-winning hit that scored both McCoy and Burke was Southern's only one off Horton in 2 2/3 innings and their first with runners in scoring position since the fourth.
Page 4 of 4 - Southern starter Brett Abel (3-2) set the Bearcats down in order in the ninth to close out the complete-game victory. He struck out eight and walked six. Northwest starter Ryker Fox gave up two runs in 5 2/3 innings but didn't factor into the decision.
The Bearcats held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first three innings. Southern tied it in the second and again in the fourth.
Garber, who had the only extra-base hit of the game, and Baccari drove in both Northwest runs.
Northwest stranded at least one runner on base in seven of nine innings. Southern left 11 on base.