Missouri Southern, the MIAA regular-season champion, appeared ready to take another piece of hardware back to Joplin Saturday afternoon at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
After scoring four runs in the top of the eighth and another run in the ninth, Missouri Southern took a three-run lead into the bottom of the ninth against Emporia State in the championship game of the MIAA Baseball Tournament.
Emporia State senior Dean Long stepped to the plate with two outs and the Hornets trailing by two. Long launched a towering home run over the left-field fence for a dramatic walk-off three-run homer that gave Emporia State an improbable 10-9 victory.
“I never had an experience like that,” said Long of his only hit of the game in six at bats. “I have hit home runs, but that moment and this time of the season is the best feeling ever.”
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The home run by Long forces a second championship game in the double-elimination tournament. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.
“We found a way and D. Long came up with a big hit,” Emporia State coach Bob Fornelli said. “Now we are going to come back and try to win a trophy.”
Long’s home run was his 23rd of the season, which tied an MIAA single-season record, held by former Emporia State player Eric Shortell, who did it 2008.
It was the 24th time this season that Emporia State, 39-14, has come from behind to win.
The winner of Sunday’s championship game gets the automatic bid into the NCAA Division II Central Region. More than likely, the loser will also get a bid but will have to wait until 9 p.m. Sunday to find out.
Both teams played as if only one spot was available. The game went back and forth. Emporia State scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 5-4 lead.
Missouri Southern, 40-12, immediately showed why it won the MIAA regular-season title. The Lions scored four runs in the top of the eighth.
The key hit was a two-out, two-run single by senior Evin Natchick that gave Missouri Southern an 8-5 lead. Emporia State scored in the bottom of the eighth on a home run by junior Evan Koehler.
The Lions responded with a run in the ninth and seemed to have more than enough runs to secure a victory. But the 9-6 lead was not enough.
When Long stepped to the plate, Emporia State trailed 9-7 with runners on first third. Long wasn’t thinking home run.
“I just wanted to pass it back to the next guy and keep it going,” Long said. “We try to stay in the now all the time. With our group, we are never out of the fight. It is our character. That’s how we play.”