By Joe Tischler
The Joplin Globe
MANKATO, Minn. —
After a 14-inning heartbreaking defeat late Thursday night to Minnesota State, there was a question as to how Missouri Southern would respond on such a short turnaround.
Friday afternoon against MIAA foe Central Missouri at Franklin Rodgers Park, the Lions seemed to answer that question well as they held a lead going into the eighth inning.
That’s where it unraveled as a series of Mules’ bunts combined with Lions’ errors led to five Central Missouri runs, and Missouri Southern fell 7-3 in an elimination game of the NCAA Division II Central Region Baseball Tournament.
Lions starter Drew Noble had the unenviable task of following the masterful performance of Brett Abell, who threw 11 shutout innings, striking out 11 against Minnesota State.
Noble was up to the challenge as he didn’t allow a hit until the seventh inning and held a 1-0 lead going into the eighth.
“No, there wasn’t pressure to follow Brett. We expect that from him,” said Noble. “Since I’m just a junior, I just wanted to do my best to keep these seniors around.”
The Lions were able to get on the scoreboard with one out in the first inning after not scoring in 14 innings against the Mavericks on Thursday.
Michael McCoy led off the bottom of the first with a single to left. Dallas Burke sacrificed him to second, and Sam Ryan drove in McCoy with a single to center.
Missouri Southern continued to hold that 1-0 lead as Noble retired the Mules in order in five of the first six innings.
“He (Noble) did great,” said Missouri Southern head coach Bryce Darnell. “He pitched well in the conference tournament and the championship game also. He’s just a highly competitive kid. When he’s down in the zone, he’s tough to handle.”
The eighth is where it unraveled for the Lions. After Barrett Noirfalise — a Joplin High School graduate — walked to lead off the frame, Trevor Jones reached on a bunt single. A Shaun Hoover error moved Noirfalise to third. Jon Cotter also laid down a bunt and McCoy couldn’t handle the throw, allowing Noirfalise to score and Jones to move to third. Samuel Domingue also bunted and Hoover committed his second error and the team’s third, allowing Jones to score the go-ahead run.
Noble was replaced, but the Mules added three more runs including a two-run double from John Oropeza.
“We couldn’t handle their small stuff,” said Darnell. “We knew that’s what they do. Knowing what they do and being able to handle it are two different things.”
The Mules (36-12) added two runs in the ninth for a 7-1 lead before the Lions (34-22) scored twice in the bottom of the inning.
With two outs McCoy and Burke singled, and McCoy continued home on a throwing error by shortstop Samuel Domingue on Burke’s hit. Ryan’s single to right-center scored Burke.
McCoy went 3-for-5 for the Lions. Burke, Ryan, and Tee Helsel each added a pair of hits.