By Ryan Atkinson
Globe Sports Writer
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
After being handcuffed by Pittsburg State’s George Brandecker in the opener, the Missouri Southern Lions desperately needed some early offense in the nightcap of Wednesday’s doubleheader at Al Ortolani Field.
That’s exactly what they got.
Southern scored six runs on six hits in the first two innings and held on for a 6-4 win over the Gorillas to earn the split.
Brandecker’s seven-inning one-hitter led Pitt State to a 5-0 victory in the opener.
“The last thing you want to do is get swept,” MSSU coach Bryce Darnell said. “It was important to bounce back and we’re glad we were able to get a game over here.”
The split leaves MSSU at 28-17 overall and 22-15 in the MIAA, still in solid position and alone in fourth place, a half-game ahead of Central Oklahoma. The Lions are just 2 1/2 games behind Emporia State for third.
Pittsburg State moves to 24-20 overall and 20-18 in the MIAA. The Gorillas are hanging on to the eighth and final postseason tournament spot, 3 1/2 games ahead of Nebraska-Kearney and Southwest Baptist.
“This league is tough. Look at the standings. It’s tough,” Darnell said. “Pittsburg, us, UCO, Emporia, we’re all battling for position and it’s hard to win games.”
Brandecker was stellar in the opener, allowing just one baserunner on Shaun Hoover’s third-inning single to center. Brandecker struck out five and the Pitt State defense played error-free behind him.
It was more than enough to make Ryan Ventura’s leadoff home run in the bottom of the first serve as the winning run.
“He really did a good job of setting the tone for us in the first game,” Pitt State coach Matt Murray said. “He competed well for us and we certainly defended well behind him. I thought Austin Lastimado made some nice plays a second base and Torry Stoffregen made some nice plays in left field, but George certainly set the tone.”
The Lions wasted little time shaking the rust off their bats in the nightcap.
MSSU took a 2-0 first-inning lead on Dallas Burke’s single, a two-base error and a wild pitch and then erupted for four runs in the second.
Hoover and Dane Kolkmeyer — a Joplin High product who went 4-for-4 — led off with singles and both came home on Will Wagner’s double to left-center.
The inning could have been bigger but Burke was called out at the plate after colliding with PSU catcher Jacoby Martin. The umpire ruled it malicious contact meaning Burke, by rule, was ejected.
Still, the Lions left the top of the second with a 6-0 lead.
“It was good to hit a couple balls hard in the first inning of the second game,” Darnell said. “We got some momentum and got a little life in the dugout.
“Obviously those runs were important. They stood up for us. We left a lot of runners on base from the fourth inning on. It was good to get those runs early because you never know how the game will turn out.”
Those runs were more than enough for Drew Noble (6-3) to work with. The junior right-hander allowed just two hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out six. Brett Abell relieved Noble in the seventh and struck out five to earn his first save.
“Noble did a nice job of pitching down in the zone and we didn’t make an adjustment and force him up,” Murray said. “He sailed through the first six. Our players did a nice job of staying in there and competing the whole game.”