NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. – What a difference a day makes.
Fans arriving at Gratz Field on Manchester University's campus probably expected the scoreboard to show more fireworks after a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference opening weekend doubleheader Friday, March 24, produced 51 runs and 60 hits of which 17 went for extra bases between the host Spartans and Mt. St. Joseph University. However, the series finale between the Black and Gold and Lions was about as different as the Indiana weather from one day to the next.
The two pitching staffs knuckled down and went on a heart-stopping ride in just over two hours. Home starter Corey Ferguson (Fort Wayne, Ind.) kept a visiting offense that was hitting at a remarkable .332 pace coming in to just one earned run on four hits over his first six innings, while MSJ's Paul Spaulding was touched for three in the first but then cut the Spartans down to just one hit over the next three innings. Manchester University managed to knock him from the contest with two in the fifth and one in the sixth for a 6-2 advantage, but, much as they did in route to sweeping Friday's two contests, the Lions' offense was resilient, as designated hitter Nathan Hunter got a hold of an offering and deposited it into the shrubs beyond the center field fence to close the gap to 6-5 in the 7th.
At that point, the bullpens took over. Mount St. Joseph allowed just three hits over the final two and third innings they worked, while junior Stephen Pinarski (Goshen, Ind.) has baserunners on against him throughout his two and third innings and danced around each potential landmine behind three strikeouts and his defense to aid the Spartans in a 6-5 victory. In the top of the seventh, with runners on first and second and two outs, he induced a fielder's choice ground out. Over his first full inning, Pinarski worked around a one-out single with two strikeouts and then, in the 9th, MSJ put runners on first and second with one out, but the junior dug down and got a big strikeout and slow roller to third that freshman Brandin Frazier (Wabash, Ind.) picked up and beat the visiting runner to the bag by an eyelash to preserve the win.
On the offensive end, senior center fielder Chad Schultz (Fair Oaks, Ind.) closed out an amazing week going three for four with two runs scored and an RBI to top the charts. Junior left fielder Eric Knepper (Bremen, Ind.) delivered a hit and two RBI, and sophomore right fielder Tyler La Follette (Warsaw, Ind.) concluded a big afternoon for his and his two outfield mates by singling and driving in a run.
Coach Rick Espeset's crew continues conference play Tuesday, March 28 with a short eastern trek to Defiance College. First pitch for a pair of nine-inning games is 1 p.m.