NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. – A gutty comeback in elimination round action helped Manchester University remain alive in the 2013 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships Friday, May 3.
Just moments removed from a heartbreaking late-inning loss to fourth-seeded Franklin in the first round, the Black and Gold (20-16) found themselves in a tough spot early against third-seeded Bluffton. Trailing 3-0 after two innings, the 2013 HCAC champions and tournament champions gave their enthusiastic crowd at Spartan Field something to cheer about in the third.
With two outs and a runner on second, a bloop single from freshman first baseman MacKenzie Williams (Fort Wayne, Ind.) plated junior outfielder Kaitlyn Schmidt (Fort Wayne, Ind.). After a single from sophomorte shortstop Emily Willmann (Montpelier, Ind.), freshman catcher Kalie Niezgodski (South Bend, Ind.) turned on a pitch for a three-run home run to left center field, giving MU a 4-3 lead they wouldn't relinquish. The Spartans added five more in the fifth, due in part to three Bluffton errors, en route to a 10-6 win.
Sophomore pitcher Ashlea Nash (Gas City, Ind.) benefitted from the offensive outburst. She moved her season record to 9-9 with four and two-thirds innings of work. Fellow sophomore pitcher Maureen Lund (Huntington, Ind.) closed the door on Bluffton with two strikeouts and no earned runs surrendered over the final two and a third.
MU opened the tourney with a tight-knit battle against the Grizzles. A Niezgodski solo home run to center, her first of three round-trippers on the day, broke up a scoreless tie in the fourth. After Franklin plated two in the fifth, the home team responded with an RBI single to right center from senior outfielder Kayla Yates (Delphi, Ind.) for a 2-2 tie.
Lund nearly kept it that way to the final Spartan at-bat. She wriggled out of trouble in the sixth, leaving two FC runners on, and was headed for a clean frame in the seventh, getting two outs sandwiched around a walk. However, a pair of singles broke up the tie and then a three-run home run followed as part of a 6-2 final.
The Black and Gold face an 11 a.m. elimination game rematch with Franklin Saturday, May 4, to begin day two of the tournament. A win would move them into the championship round against second-seeded Anderson at 1 p.m. The Ravens are the only remaining unbeaten team.
NOTES: The victory over Bluffton marked the third time in the last four seasons in which MU has reached 20-or-more wins. … A win in Saturday's opener would make it three of the last four years in which the Spartans have reached the championship round. … Junior third baseman Kylie Planck (Valparaiso, Ind.) and Yates both extended strong on-base streaks. Planck's roll moved to 17 straight, while Yates' string increased to 12 games in a row.