With one big blast from senior Tyler Durant, Northwest Missouri State's baseball team was able to close out its home schedule in style Thursday and keep its longest win streak in two seasons alive.
Durant yanked a two-run, two-out homer over the left center field fence in the 10th inning that gave Northwest a 3-1 walk-off win in game two and a sweep of Fort Hays State on one of the only nice days for baseball all season at Bearcat Field.
After circling the bases, Durant was mobbed at home plate by his teammates, most of which hurdled the dugout railing while the ball was in flight.
On the other side of the field, the dejected Tigers began facing the likelihood of missing the MIAA Tournament. They started game two in ninth place and have none remaining in the regular season.
"It's awesome," said Durant. "If it wasn't for my teammates, I wouldn't have had the chance to do that."
Durant's dramatic homer was his third of the year and came on the opening pitch of an at-bat against Fort Hays State's side-arming right-handed reliever Michael Edelfson (4-2), ending a game Northwest trailed 1-0 entering the bottom of the ninth.
Durant led off the ninth inning with a single and scored the tying run on a one-out single by senior Cam Bedard.
Bedard was down in the count 1-2 to Fort Hays State starter Alex Ellison, who carried a shutout into the ninth, and fouled off four straight two-strike pitches before delivering the game-tying hit.
It was the type of clutch hit in close, late-game situations the Bearcats have lacked until recently.
"We talked all year long about how we've been getting them on and getting them over, but we just weren't getting them in" said Northwest Missouri State head coach Darin Loe. "We're down to our last two outs of the day and a couple seniors come up with a couple big hits. Cam's been struggling a little bit as of late, but he had a great at-bat. He battled, fouled off some tough pitches and got the single."
Another senior instrumental in the late-inning rally was pitcher Nathaniel Horton.
He pitched 1 2/3 innings of spotless relief, striking out all five hitters he faced to earn the win.
Freshman Rob Henrichs threw the first seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits with eight strikeouts. Lefty Blane Reutter followed with 1 1/3 scoreless innings.
Northwest pitchers allowed just one run and four hits in each game to a Tiger team that came in ranked second in the MIAA with a .350 average.
Game one starter Austin Warren (2-6) threw a complete-game, four-hitter in what is likely to be his final start of the year.
Page 2 of 2 - "Our guys just came out and pitched well," said Loe. "That's the best I've seen Austin pitch all year. I think warm weather has something to do with it, getting out and sweating a little bit."
Fort Hays State (23-20, 19-19) scored both of its runs on the day in the top of the fourth, creating separate 1-0 deficits for the Bearcats.
They overcame the first one with a three-run bottom half of the fourth.
Steven Garber hit a two-run double that put Northwest ahead 2-1. An RBI single by Paul Johnson scored Garber and gave Northwest a two-run lead.
Warren took it from there.
"Credit to our guys, we battled all day long," said Loe. "I thought we got great pitching all day. Six weeks ago, we weren't mentally strong enough to get that done. This team has come a long way. They did a great job today.
Northwest (21-25, 18-22) has now won seven straight and 13 of its last 16 games—the best stretch for the program in several seasons.
The Bearcats were eliminated from conference tournament contention with Lindenwood's sweep of Southwest Baptist Wednesday night, but could finish as high as ninth after spending most of the year in 12th place or below.
They close out the season with a three-game road series at Pittsburg State Saturday and Sunday.
Pittsburg State is one of three teams still in contention for the final open spots in the MIAA Tournament.
"We couldn't get it rolling in the first 30, but I think we're playing pretty exceptional baseball right now," said Loe. "To win seven in a row in the MIAA is virtually impossible. You got to strap it on every single day in the MIAA. It goes back to the positive energy. Everybody knew we were going to win these games and we didn't waver from it."