Missouri Southern catcher Sam Ryan was the only player to figure out a way to hit the ball through a wicked crosswind and out of Community America Ballpark in Saturday’s Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association baseball tournament finals.
By TODD ENGLE
Special to the Star
The first home run was just a minor footnote in a blowout loss.
His second dinger of the afternoon meant everything.
Ryan slapped a full count, two-on, two-out pitch over the wall in right field, giving Missouri Southern a dramatic 6-3 walk-off victory over Missouri Western.
Ryan’s home run in the first game — a drive over the wall in left — came immediately after Western had put up a nine-run inning that virtually assured a second game to decide the conference title.
His second home run gave the Lions their third MIAA tournament title, and their first since 1992.
“(Missouri Western pitcher Logan Hollingsworth) gave me a pitch away, and I was fortunate enough to put a good swing on it,” Ryan said. “I honestly had no idea (it was out). I was just running. With this wind, you just couldn’t predict anything.”
Somebody in the Missouri Southern dugout screamed the moment the ball left the bat. And Ryan surely had a rowdy welcoming committee gathered at home plate by the time the ball left the park.
“I knew right away. It might have been me (yelling), it might have been all of us,” Lions pitcher Drew Noble said. “We’re just having fun out here.”
In the deciding game Noble needed 147 pitches to put the brakes on an offense that went nuts in the first game. He took a 3-2 lead into the ninth.
Missouri Western’s Shawn Egge led off the top half with a triple that rode the same crosswind. Egge tied the game on Michael Schulze’s RBI single moments later.
But that was all Missouri Western, 40-10, mustered. Noble shut the door by retiring the next three hitters and stranding Schulze at third. He improved to 7-3 while throwing his first complete game of the season.
“When we gave him the ball he was confident the entire time. He just kept competing, and it showed today. He’s the big reason we’re here today,” Ryan said. “It was Drew’s game until he didn’t want it.”
Missouri Southern’s rally in the bottom of the ninth started slowly. The Lions, 34-10, got two quick outs before Michael McCoy reached on a solid single and Dallas Burke hit a dunker to left.
That brought up Ryan, and the rest is now a piece of Missouri Southern baseball history.
“You cant drop your guard, that’s for sure,” Missouri Western coach Buzz Verduzco said. “They did a good job of staying with it and hitting the ball to right field, and that’s what they did to come out with a win.”
The Lions had overcome a two-run deficit with a three-run rally in the seventh. But their last rally was the best.
“This team’s been resilient all year,” Ryan said. “For us to get a win like this caps it off. But we’re not done yet.”
Missouri Southern will be playing in an NCAA Division II regional starting Thursday. The NCAA will announce pairings and times on Sunday.