By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
Missouri Southern will begin the MIAA postseason baseball tournament at home.
The Lions wrapped up home-field advantage in the first round of the tournament by defeating No. 14 Missouri Western 8-7 in the first game of a doubleheader Sunday at Joe Becker Stadium. The Griffons won the second game 8-4.
Missouri Western (35-8, 28-5 MIAA) won the MIAA regular-season championship.
The Lions’ opponent in the first round of the tournament will be determined by the outcome of tonight’s game between Emporia State and No. 4 Central Missouri at Warrensburg.
If Emporia State wins, the Lions will finish the regular season in fourth place and will play Central Oklahoma in the first round. If Central Missouri wins, the Lions will move up to third place and will face Northeastern (Okla.) State in the first round.
First-round tournament games will be nine innings and are scheduled for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with game times to be determined. Games may be scheduled for Sunday if needed in case of a rainout.
The Lions (29-18, 23-16 MIAA) loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth on singles by Dane Kolkmeyer and Michael McCoy and a walk to Dallas Burke.
With two out, Zack Steadman, who entered the game in the seventh inning as a defensive replacement in left field, lined a 1-0 pitch into the left-center field gap and ignited a post-game celebration.
“I know my team needed me,” said Steadman, who was 2-for-2 and drove in two runs. “I didn’t want to waste an opportunity. When you’re prepared, there are no nerves.
“I had been in that situation before and didn’t come through, so I wanted to come through today.”
The Lions rallied from a 5-1 deficit in the fifth inning and tied the first game 5-5 with a run in the bottom of the seventh of what was scheduled as a seven-inning game.
Will Wagner led off the inning by grounding a single into center field. Sam Ryan sacrificed him to second, and Wagner moved to third on Tee Helsel’s fly out. After a walk to Thomas Wilson, Nick Doughty’s high fly ball down the right-field line was misjudged and fell in fair territory for an RBI double.
After Missouri Western took a 7-5 lead with two runs in the top of the eighth on a bases-loaded walk and a fielder’s choice, the Lions scored twice in the bottom of the inning.
The inning began with back-to-back singles by Shaun Hoover, who was 2-for-5, and Michael McCoy, who was 4-for-6. Steadman drove in Hoover with a one-out single to right, and Helsel’s single down the left-field line scored McCoy.
MWSU starting pitcher Brandon Simmons, who came into the game with a record of 21-0 over the last two seasons, allowed three runs on seven hits in five innings. He walked two and struck out four.
Simmons was removed after Tee Helsel’s two-out double to left-center field in the fifth drove in McCoy and Dallas Burke and pulled the Lions to within 5-3.
“We were down 5-1. It’s a credit to our guys to keep after it,” said Lions head coach Bryce Darnell. “You never know what can happen. Tee had a big hit. We got a little momentum and it gave our dugout a spark, for sure.
“It had a playoff-type atmosphere, especially for us,” he said. “We knew if we won we had a chance to host (a playoff series). It’s fun to play games when there’s more at stake than a typical game.”
The Lions took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Doughty’s fly ball to left field fell in for a double and scored Wilson, who had walked. Outfielders on both teams struggled at times on a rare sunny day during a spring known for rainy and cold game conditions.
Michael Schulze, the Griffons’ leadoff batter, drove in a run with a single in the third inning, and Nate Ramler made the score 2-1 with a solo home run to right field.
The key hit in the Griffons’ three-run fifth inning was Schulze’s two-run single as Missouri Western took a 5-1 lead. Schulze was 3-for-4 in the first game and 4-for-7 on the day.
Lions starting pitcher Brett Abell struck out 10 in 6 1/3 innings and raised his total for the season to 92. The school record of 94 was set in 1991 by Tim Luther.
“I went as long as I could,” said Abell, who allowed 10 hits and two walks before he was recognized during Senior Day activities between games. “That’s huge. We took care of business today and it will be nice to play at home no matter who it is.”
Ryan Bates (6-2), the Lions’ fifth pitcher, entered the game in the eighth inning and was the winning pitcher. He took the loss in the second game.
In the second game, Missouri Western scored four runs in the first inning, including David Chew’s two-out, two-run single. The Lions pulled to within 5-3 on Sam Ryan’s home run over the gate just to the right of the green background in center field.
The Griffons added a run in the fifth on Grant Fink’s solo home run to left field, and scored twice in the sixth on Shawn Egge’s solo home run and Kyle Simpson’s RBI single.
Griffons left-hander Ethan Ward (3-3) allowed 11 hits in a seven-inning complete game. He walked one and struck out four.