Needing a win to keep their four-peat dream alive, the St. Joseph Mustangs walked off the Jefferson City Renegades in game two of the M.I.N.K. League Championship Series. Third baseman Mason Holton added to his outstanding postseason run (see Tuesday’s game) by providing the game-winning single. With the series all knotted up, the Mustangs and Renegades will play a winner-take-all game Saturday at 7 p.m. in Phil Welch Stadium.
Unlike Thursday’s game one, which played it out with a 5-5 tie through five innings, Friday’s battle was scoreless past the midway point of regulation innings. Mustangs left-hander Aron Harrington and Renegades right-handed Jonah Sarabia duked it out on the hill, each throwing six strong innings.
Jefferson City found an opportunity to score right away, as the speedy center fielder Luke Matschiner led off the game with a walk and stolen base. Harrington then struck out two and induced a threat-killing flyout. St. Joe would put the leadoff man aboard and advance him 90 more feet in the second, but to no avail.
Both teams stranded multiple baserunners in the fourth inning. Jefferson City put men on first and second with two away, but a foul out kept the game scoreless. Meanwhile, St. Joe went walk-single-wild pitch to move runners to second and third with nobody out.
But in between two lineouts to short, the Renegades made an outstanding defensive play to save a run. With one out, first baseman Ryan Callahan sizzled a grounder down the first base line, where Justin Rivera made a difficult pickup and threw out center fielder Brayden Luikart at home.
In the top of the fifth, the Mustangs’ defense took center stage. With one out and the bases loaded, Luikart caught a shallow fly ball to center. He threw home, but the runner at third faked a tag-up. That decision fooled the runner at second who stumbled into a rundown halfway between second and third. As the Mustangs held him up, the lead runner attempted to score from third, but he was cut down to end the half-inning.
An inning later, the Renegades finally broke through on the scoreboard. A double followed a leadoff walk, plating the night’s first run. Later, a grounder to the right side scored a second run, but second baseman Noah Bodenhausen made a tremendous diving play to record the second out.
Right-hander Jase Johnson relieved Harrington in the sixth, pitching two scoreless innings. After he stranded the bases loaded in the seventh, St. Joe began its comeback. An error put the leadoff man aboard, and, after he advanced to third, shortstop Cole Slibowski singled him home. But with the tying run at third and just one out, the top of the Mustang order could not execute.
In the ninth, right-hander Braden Berry climbed the hill for the first of his four innings of work. After loading the bases with one out, he locked into gear, getting a strikeout and fielder’s choice to deny the Renegades any insurance. That lack of a cushion would prove costly for the visitors within 15 minutes.
Holton opened the bottom of the ninth with the Mustangs’ only extra-base hit of the night. He then went to third on Bodenhausen’s single to third. With the tying and winning runs aboard, the curtains rose for shortstop Michael Paule, who had replaced Slibowski due to injury in the seventh. In his first at-bat of the series, Paule dumpled a game-tying single to center field. And though the next three hitters couldn’t move the winning run past second, the Mustangs had completed the comeback and forced a second straight extra-inning game.
Berry rolled through the 10th and 11th innings, limiting the Renegades to just one total baserunner. On the other side, St. Joe brought the winning run to third in the 10th and put the leadoff man on in the 11th, but the 2-2 tie persisted to the 12th. That’s when the four-hour affair reached its crescendo.
Jefferson City broke the tie in the top half, as catcher Nate McHugh singled with two outs. Yet the Mustangs were primed for another rally. A hit batsman and walk placed two runners on with one out for catcher Ben Click. Looking for his first hit of the night, the backstop snuck a single into right field, scoring pinch-runner Will Dryburgh. On the very next pitch, Holton brought in left fielder Easton Bruce to win the game.