The Joplin Outlaws were one base hit away from a walk-off victory.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
The Outlaws stranded the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Nevada Griffons held on for an 8-7 MINK League victory on Friday night at Joe Becker Stadium.
“We had an opportunity there in the ninth, and we were one single away from winning the ballgame,” Outlaws manager Danny Weaver said. “But you can’t expect to win games in the bottom of the ninth every night. It’s not always going to happen.”
Up 5-2 after the fifth, the Outlaws’ bats went silent for three straight innings. To Weaver, the mid-game lull was the difference.
“We’ve been bad in the middle innings during this stretch, offensively and defensively,” Weaver said. “We jump out early and score some runs, but we’ve been going away from our approach in those middle innings and it’s come back to bite us. You can’t play five good innings and expect to win. We have to clean that up. And Nevada didn’t go away, so credit to them.”
Overcoming a three-run deficit, the Griffons rallied for six unanswered runs late in the game to earn a second straight win.
“We battled the entire night,” Griffons manager Will Loza said. “Our guys didn’t give up early when things weren’t going their way. They realize it’s a nine-inning game. We kept grinding.”
Nevada’s Domonique Hernandez went 3-for-5 with four RBI. Griffin Larsen added three hits, while Chase Beiter had two.
Aaron Hassell was the winning pitcher after tossing three scoreless frames.
“Hassell gave us three quality innings and that’s what really turned it around for us,” Loza said. “He was able to quiet their bats down.”
A Missouri Southern product, Joe Kinder went 3-for-5 for the Outlaws. Damian Acosta had two hits, while Zack Ehlen scored two runs.
Joplin starting pitcher Hunter Hatfield of Pierce City limited the Griffons to two runs in six innings with five strikeouts, but the Arkansas Pine-Bluff hurler settled for a no-decision.
“Hatfield had a great start,” Weaver said. “He gave us a chance like we needed him to do.”
Austin Gottula was charged with the loss after surrendering three runs in three innings after Josh Bortka allowed two runs in relief.
In a clash between South Division rivals on Autism Awareness Night, Joplin leadoff hitter Ehlen belted a home run to left field in the bottom of the first inning.
The Outlaws tacked on a run in the second on Ryan Cedeno’s RBI single to center, and then Joplin took a 3-0 lead one inning later when David Butterfield walked and later scored on a double steal.
Nevada’s Trevor Kimm smacked a two-run single up the middle in the fourth to get the Griffons on the board, but run-scoring doubles from Kinder and Parker Dunn extended Joplin’s advantage to 5-2 in the fifth.
The Griffons tied the game with three runs in the seventh as one run scored on a wild pitch before Hernandez and Larsen contributed run-scoring base hits. In the eighth, Nevada’s Hernandez launched a no-doubt, go-ahead three-run home run over the bleachers in left to give the Griffons their first lead.
“He tried to do too much early in the game and he grounded out two or three times in a row,” Loza said. “He swung it well in his fourth and fifth at-bats.”
The Outlaws made things interesting in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out against Walker Johnson.
After Mike Million popped out, Acosta delivered a two-run double to right, cutting Joplin’s deficit to a single tally. Jack Hanstad walked before Johnson induced a game-ending ground ball off the bat of Cedeno.
“We thought Walker could handle a high-leverage situation there and he did,” Loza said.
Joplin (5-9, 1-9 MINK) and Nevada (3-6, 3-6 MINK) will meet again at 7 on Sunday night at Lyons Stadium in Nevada.
Nevada is at St. Joseph at 7 tonight. The Outlaws host the Joplin Playmakers in nonleague action at 6 tonight.