RICHMOND, IND. – Sophomore shortstop Braxton Riley (Fort Wayne, Ind.) singled home a run with a sharp shot up the middle, and senior first baseman Tailur Szarenski (Bluffton, Ind.) scurried home the eventual game-deciding tally a batter later as part of Manchester University's final at-bat during its first game of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships Thursday, May 11.
Riley sent a pitch from Mt. St. Joseph University relief pitcher Jacob Gunnell scooting towards the middle of the Lions' infield where it eluded a fielding attempt, scoring junior pinch runner Alec Trzeciak (Charlotte, Mich.) to tie the two-three seed match-up at 6-6 in the bottom of the eighth. Szarenski worked a perfect ground ball scenario to the right side of the infield after Riley's RBI single, plating sophomore second baseman Christian Smith (Fortville, Ind.) with the tie-breaking score. Holding a slim 7-6 margin, Spartans' bullpen ace Cory Ferguson (Fort Wayne, Ind.) quickly retired the first two MSJ hitters in the ninth but had to work around a two-out walk with a strikeout call on the corner, sending the Black and Gold (22-19) to its 17th win in the last 25 contests and to the winners' bracket section of the tournament at Earlham College's Sadler Field.
Ferguson notched his seventh win of the season after losing a 5-3 lead in the top of the seventh when MSJ posted three runs. He righted the ship over the eighth and ninth, allowing just one hit and a walk down the stretch. Manchester University's offense, as has been the case in helping the program finish second on the regular season standings and locki up a 19th league final four appearance in the last 21 years, stepped to the forefront with four players producing multiple-hit efforts. Riley, in the leadoff spot, led the quartet with two hits, including a double, and two RBI; senior third baseman Kevin Clarke (Cincinnati, Ohio) resumed his impressive late-season stretch with three hits; and senior center fielder Chad Schultz (Fair Oaks, Ind.) and freshman designated hitter Joe Gallatin (Muncie, Ind.) ended with two hits apiece.
The Spartans face off against regular season champion and top seed Earlham Friday, May 12, at 9:30 a.m. The victor moves into the championship, set for Saturday, May 13, while the loser turns around and plays an elimination game at 4 p.m. against the winner of the first elimination battle between MSJ and Rose-Hulman.