By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
It’s hard to imagine a bigger emotional roller-coaster than the one the Missouri Southern baseball team rode the past week.
On Sunday afternoon at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City, Kan., Sam Ryan slugged a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Lions a 6-3 victory over Missouri Southern in the championship game of the MIAA Postseason Tournament.
The Lions’ first MIAA title since 1992 earned them a spot in the Central Regional tournament in Mankato, Minn.
On Thursday night the Lions battled the top-seeded host for 13 scoreless innings. Then in the bottom of the 14th, Minnesota State used a hit batsman, sacrifice bunt, groundout and a safety squeeze bunt to beat the Lions 1-0.
“It was a ridiculously good game,” Lions coach Bryce Darnell said early Friday morning in a telephone conversation. “Both teams had chances. No one deserved to lose. It was a good bunt. Obviously we were surprised by it. We think the kid did it on his own. It was a high-risk play but also high reward. It definitely worked out for them.”
Left-hander Brett Abell pitched 11 scoreless innings for the Lions, striking out 11 batters, walking two and hitting four. Abell blanked Pittsburg State 9-0 in his previous start in the MIAA Tournament.
“That guy is just a straight warrior,” Darnell said. “He is the toughest pitcher I’ve been around. He just is a great competitor. I feel bad for him because we lost the game. That’s one thing that makes Brett Abell who he is — he wants to win. He just pitched awesome.”
Abell, who set the Lions’ record with 116 strikeouts this season, fanned the final three batters he faced in the 11th inning after the Mavericks’ leadoff batter reached third base.
“We did consider filling the bases (with two intentional walks),” Darnell said. “We thought they might bunt. We pitched out on the second guy. We felt if Brett throws strike one against those guys, his chance of striking them out was as good as getting a double play quite honestly.”
The Lions, receiving four hits from Ryan and two from Dane Kolkmeyer, outhit the Mavericks 10-7. However, the Lions were 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position compared to the Mavericks’ 2-for-12.
“Their pitching was good,” Darnell said. “We had a hard time stringing hits together, and it was also hard for them. They scored on a two-out bunt to end the game. That sums up how hard it was to get runs.
“I’m so proud of our guys. I thought our guys competed really hard. We came here to play good baseball and win. Unfortunately we cane out on the short end. It was not for a lack of effort. It’s just the way baseball happens.”