The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

April 18, 2014

Graham single lifts Southern past Bronchos

Pinch-hitter Brett Graham drove in the tying and winning runs with a bases-loaded single in the sixth inning as Missouri Southern defeated Central Oklahoma 4-3 in the second game of an MIAA doubleheader Friday at Joe Becker Stadium.

Central Oklahoma limited MSSU to four hits and won the first game 7-3.

The Lions (23-21, 16-19 MIAA), who are in ninth place, edged closer to Northwest Missouri (21-19, 15-16) for a spot in the eight-team postseason tournament. Emporia State swept the Bearcats 6-2 and 3-1 Friday at Emporia, and the two teams play another doubleheader today.

Trailing 3-2, Graham pinch hit for third baseman Austin White and hit a fly ball into shallow left field. Bronchos left fielder Tyler Crabtree attempted to make a diving catch and was injured on the play, allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to score.

Before he came to the plate, Lions head coach Bryce Darnell had a few words for Graham, a freshman from Joplin.

“He just told me to take my time, don’t rush it, stay relaxed,” said Graham, who is batting .250 in 23 games. “Off the bat, I thought I popped it up. I thought he was going to catch it.”

UCO (31-11, 24-11) had scored a run in the top of the sixth for a 3-1 lead. Lions right fielder Axel Johnson led off the bottom of the inning with a single, and designated hitter Mitchell Osburn drew a two-out walk.

Shortstop Jared Lupo then hit a grounder that got past UCO shortstop Phillip Wilson. Johnson, who shielded Wilson’s view of the ball, scored on the play. Beau Phillips, pinch hitting for second baseman Nathan Skaggs, walked, loading the bases for Graham.

“It bounced our way finally,” Darnell said. “It was nice to win a close game. We needed a couple of breaks on offense and we got them.”

MSSU starter Ryan Bates was relieved by Stephen Vaughn with a runner on second base and two outs in the sixth.

UCO second baseman Cesar Wong’s single up the middle scored Dilon Argo, who had doubled, and the Bronchos took a 3-1 lead before the Lions rallied in the bottom of the inning.

“It feels really good to pull one out,” Vaughn said. After he walked two batters in the seventh, pitching coach Jason Immekus visited with his closer, who has six saves.

“I really appreciate Kus and coach Darnell for putting me in those spots all the time,” said Vaughn (3-2), a senior. “Kus just told me to believe in my stuff. We’ve had great success as a staff. I knew it was time to close the door and win on senior weekend.”

The Lions will face UCO in their final MIAA home game of the season on Senior Day at 1 p.m. today.

Bates, a senior, allowed six hits, walked two and struck out one. “If our pitching does well, we have a shot,” Bates said. “Close ballgames, we’ve had a bunch of those this year.”

The Bronchos took a 2-0 lead in the third on Josh Ingram’s two-run single. MSSU loaded the bases in the fourth when Evin Natick was hit by a pitch after singles by Johnson and Dusty Harper, and Osburn’s sacrifice fly scored Johnson.

In the first game, UCO’s Ricky Reeves (8-1) held the Lions to four hits and one earned run in 5 1/3 innings. Wilson picked up his seventh save.

Trailing 4-0, MSSU scored twice in the bottom of the fifth when Lupo reached on an error, Moon tripled to left-center field and scored on Matt Smith’s grounder to short.

Harper led off the sixth inning with his fourth home run, an opposite-field drive to left field.

UCO took a 2-0 lead in the fourth on designated hitter Jared Sterling’s two-run single, and added two runs in the fifth on a solo home run by Wilson and an error. Catcher Brad Lamberti had an RBI single in a three-run seventh inning.

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