LMU beats Catawba in 11-inning classic to clinch SAC title

Published 11:44 am Tuesday, May 1, 2018

HARROGATE, Tenn. — Tyler Adams tied the score with a three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning of the South Atlantic Conference tournament championship game, and Mason Ewers’ bases-loaded walk in the 11th inning put the Lincoln Memorial University baseball team ahead as the Railsplitters held on to beat Catawba 9-7 to clinch the tournament championship for the second straight year.

LMU scored seven unanswered runs to come back from a 7-2 deficit after the fourth inning.

By claiming the SAC championship, the Railsplitters (35-19) clinch a berth in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional that will take place May 19-23.

“I’ve never been a part of a game like that before,” head baseball coach Jeff Sziksai said. “They’ve been resilient all year. We’ve seen this type of comeback before many times this year.”

Lincoln Memorial had a chance to clinch the title in the opening game but had its seven-game win streak snapped in a 9-0 loss to the Indians (30-23) to set up the winner-takes-all final.

Game One: Catawba 9, Lincoln Memorial 0

The Railsplitter offense went cold in game one with just six singles. The team went just 2-for-16 (.125) with runners on base and hitless (0-for-8) with runners in scoring position. LMU left 10 runners on base, including at least one in each of the first six innings, and failed to have a runner reached third base.

Hunter Shepherd stymied the Lincoln Memorial offense with seven strikeouts in five shutout innings to improve to 5-2. Two Indian relievers combined for four no-hit innings.

The Indians scattered 13 hits. Jacob Nester went 3-for-4 while Kyle Smith, Heath Mitchem, Jackson Raper and Lee Poteat recorded two hits apiece. Raper drove in four runs and scored twice.

Catawba opened the scoring with three runs in the fourth inning. Raper’s two-run double put the Indians ahead 2-0, and he later scored on Nester’s RBI single.

Those would be the only three runs LMU starter Ben Wiley allowed in five-plus innings. The righty allowed six hits and struck out five across five innings but took the loss to fall to 2-2.

Catawba broke the game open with a run in the seventh on a Poteat RBI single and added five more in the eighth. Raper and Chandler Morrison notched two-run singles up the middle, and Smith later added another RBI single.

Game Two: Lincoln Memorial 9, Catawba 7 (11 innings)

The Railsplitters overcame a 7-2 deficit after the fourth inning to tie the score in the ninth inning and eventually win in the 11th. Kevin Norton (1 1/3 innings), Joe Bobiak (three innings) and Ethan Elliott (three innings) held the Indians scoreless over the final 7 1/3 innings to allow the team the opportunity to mount its comeback.

“Kevin pitched in all four days of the tournament and was great in all of them, and Joe didn’t have a great start against Tusculum but came back and was lights out tonight,” Sziksai said. “Ethan did his thing.”

Just three days removed from a 142-pitch outing, Elliott stranded six runners over his three innings of scoreless relief in the ninth, 10thand 11th innings to pick up his second win of the tournament and improve to 9-3. The gutsy performance earned the junior lefty tournament MVP honors.

Seth Hunt led the Railsplitters offensively with a 5-for-6 night that included a pair of doubles and runs scored. Adams went 3-for-6 with the tying three-run homer and four total RBI.

Raper was a triple shy of the cycle for Catawba and finished 5-for-6 with three RBI and runs scored. Chance Bowden was 3-for-5.

The Indians outhit Lincoln Memorial 14-13 but stranded 15 runners to the Railsplitters’ 12. Both teams left runners on base in all but two innings. The Indians left the bases loaded twice, including the bottom of the ninth.

Catawba scored three runs in the first to take an early lead. Luke Setzer brought in the first run on a fielder’s choice to shortstop. After the Indians loaded the bases, Joe Butts walked and Nester reached on an infield single deflected off the pitcher to bring in the other two runs. All three were charged to Jake Grenus, who started but only lasted two thirds of an inning.

LMU closed to within a run in the third inning on an Adams RBI single and Timmy Wages bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. However, the Indians got a run back in the third on Nester’s RBI single and extended the lead to 7-2 on Raper’s three-run homer in the fourth.

The Railsplitters cut the score to 7-4 in the sixth on RBI singles by Dalton Dedas and Hunt.

That score held until the top of the ninth when Adams’s homer tied the game after Hunt and Reddick both reached on singles.

“When he hit the ball, I knew he squared it up well,” Sziksai said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to get out or not. It kept carrying.”

Both teams worked out trouble in the ninth and 10th. Lincoln Memorial loaded the bases on back-to-back walks and an infield hit to set up Ewers’ go-ahead RBI base on balls. Joe Stucky then followed with a sac fly to put the Railsplitters up two.

Elliott worked around a lead-off walk in the 11thto seal the 9-7 win and SAC championship.