By Richard Polen
Globe Sports Writer
KANSAS CITY, Kan. —
Sam Ryan’s three-run home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning brought home the MIAA Championship for Missouri Southern in a 6-3 victory Saturday against No. 5 Missouri Western.
The Lions (34-20) will advance to the NCAA Central Region Tournament to be held Thursday through Sunday. The regional site will be announced tonight.
The MIAA championship is the Lions’ first since 1992.
“We talked about that quickly (Friday) night,” said Dallas Burke, who was 3-for-5, scored two runs and drove in the tying run with a seventh-inning double.
“Some of these guys weren’t even born then,” he said. “What an ending to the MIAA season. Now we have a chance to showcase our stuff in the region.”
The region tournament appearance will be the Lions’ first since 2001, which was the last time the Lions had played in the MIAA title game.
After Missouri Western (40-10) tied the score with a run in the top of the ninth, the Lions’ rally began with two outs when Michael McCoy grounded a single into right field. Dallas Burke followed with a single to left.
Ryan, who drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out single in the seventh inning, stepped to the plate. After he fouled off two pitches, he took a ball to run the count to 3-2.
“It was that little kid moment,” said Ryan, whose slicing drive to right field landed on a sloped, grassy area behind the right-field fence. “I was just trying to be relaxed. I knew I hit it pretty good but I didn’t know where it would go.
“Then, I just made sure I touched all the bases and I saw the looks on the faces of my teammates. It’s the greatest moment of my career.”
Lions head coach Bryce Darnell watched the flight of the ball from the third-base coach’s box.
“He hit it well and the wind helped it a little bit,” Darnell said. “This is a great day. I’m so happy for our school and our athletic programs. To win a game like this in that fashion is just unreal.”
Drew Noble (7-3) was named the starting pitcher for what became the championship game after Missouri Western won Saturday’s first game 12-2 in seven innings, breaking the game open with a nine-run third inning.
“I mean, they’re a good hitting team,” Burke said. “You saw how they can hit the ball in the first game.”
Shortstop Michael Schulze, who was 3-for-3, and Simpson, who was 3-for-4, led the Griffons’ 15-hit attack in the opener.
Ryan drove in both Missouri Southern runs with a single that scored McCoy in the first inning and a solo home run to left field in the fourth.
The Lions then turned the second game over to Noble, who said he didn’t know he would pitch until 30 minutes before the game. His 147-pitch outing was the Lions’ third complete game in as many days.
Brett Abell threw 147 pitches in a 9-0 victory against Pittsburg State in a semifinal game Thursday, and Ryan Bates threw 146 pitches in the Lions’ 4-3 victory Friday against Missouri Western.
“My game plan was to keep us in the ballgame,” said Noble, who made his first start since the second game of a doubleheader April 24 at Pittsburg State, won by Noble and the Lions 6-4.
“I felt like I was well-rested and apparently I needed that much rest to throw as many pitches as I did,” he said.
Noble gave up three singles to the first four batters he faced, including an RBI single by Nate Ramler that put Missouri Western on top 1-0. That prompted a visit from Ryan, his catcher.
“I just told Drew to settle in,” he said.
With runners at second and third and one out in the first inning, Burke made a diving catch in foul territory in right field that helped the Lions get out of the inning.
Noble then retired 11 of the next 14 batters he faced with the help of a 5-4-3 double play that ended the third inning.
“I started getting in the groove and hitting spots,” Noble said. “I was just trying to keep the game close.”
The score remained 1-0 until the seventh, when a two-out single by Simpson drove in Griffons catcher Jake Schrader. The RBI was Schrader’s 60th of the season, a Missouri Western record.
The Lions took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh after Missouri Western starter Mark Spreckels shut out the Lions on four hits through 5 2/3 innings.
Shortstop Thomas Wilson and first baseman Shaun Hoover hit back-to-back singles and advanced on Dane Kolkmeyer’s sacrifice. Michael McCoy drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly to center field and Burke drove in Hoover with a double to right-center field before Ryan’s RBI single gave the Lions their first lead, 3-2.
Western tied the score in the top of the ninth on Shawn Egge’s leadoff triple to right-center field and an RBI single to center by Schulze, who was 2-for-5.
After Schulze was sacrificed to second, Noble retired Simpson on a fly ball to right field, then struck out Ramler and sent the game into the bottom of the ninth.
“He didn’t try to do too much, didn’t try to overpower Western,” Ryan said. “As the game went on, he got more and more confident. Fortunately, today, we came through in the end.”