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MU expands HCAC lead in thriller

NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. - A three-game series between the top two teams on the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference standings started with a close-knit battle Friday, April 12.

Manchester University extended its current and home win streaks to eight straight, rallying from an early 2-0 deficit to claim a 5-4 win at Gratz Field. The No. 14-ranked D3Baseball.com and No. 15-ranked American Baseball Coaches Association Division III Spartans improved to 21-3-1 overall and 11-1 in league play and moved out to a four-game lead on the conference standings ahead of Hanover and Rose-Hulman.

The visiting Panthers (14-11, 7-5 HCAC) served notice early on that they would be a tough task. Taking advantage of some early fielding miscues by their hosts, Hanover plated two runs in the second and held the lead all the way until MU batted in the fifth.

The Black and Gold finally got to Panthers' starter Mitch Hunnicutt, loading the bases with one out on an infield single from senior center fielder Austin Rieke (Fishers, Ind.), a hit batsman and a walk. Junior third baseman Jordan Nieman (Michigan City, Ind.), as he has done all season, cashed in on the opportunity, lining a shot off the fence in center field for a three-run triple to give Manchester University a 4-2 lead. He later scampered across home plate on a fielding error for a 5-2 score.

Hanover came back with two runs in the top of the sixth behind four hits but had the potential tying run cut down at home plate on a nifty relay from senior left fielder Cody Schell (Granger, Ind.) to senior shortstop Corey Marchant (Fort Wayne, Ind.) to freshman catcher Aaron Wells (Cowan, Ind.). The visitors put runners on in the 7th and 8th but couldn't equal the score over the final three frames.

Nieman's two hits and three RBIs topped the Black and Gold offense. The numbers helped aid starting pitcher of junior Dylan Padgett (Kirklin, Ind.) who struck out six and gave up just two earned runs over six innings. Senior relief pitcher Bryce Murphy (Ossian, Ind.) helped nail down Padgett's fourth win of the season by firing three scoreless innings of two-hit ball with three strikeouts for his seventh save.

The Spartans resume their weekend set with Hanover Saturday, April 13. The two sides play a pair of nine-inning games with a 12 p.m. start at Gratz Field.

NOTES: Murphy saw his season earned run average continued to inch down (0.52 to 0.48) with his bullpen effort. … The senior saw his 10-game hitting streak stopped, but he and Marchant both extended their long on-base strings. Murphy's moved up to 29, while Marchant's improved to 26. … Nieman's three RBIs moved him seven shy of 50. … Sophomore second baseman Trevor Kimm (Anderson, Ind.) joined Schell for the team stolen bases' lead with his 13th, while sophomore outfielder/designated hitter Kyle Norris (Indianapolis, Ind.) picked up a steal to move two behind the duo.