KINGSPORT, Tenn. — Kirk Yates’ run-scoring fielder’s choice grounder capped a three-run ninth inning rally and lifted the University of Rio Grande past Indiana Tech, 4-3, in an elimination game of the NAIA National Championship Opening Round’s Kingsport Bracket, Wednesday night, at chilly Hunter Wright Stadium.
The fifth-seeded RedStorm improved to 39-24 with the victory and remained alive in the double-elimination bracket, with another elimination contest against 22nd-ranked and No. 2 seed St. Thomas (Fla.) scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m.
The Rio-St. Thomas winner will advance to the tourney championship and face fifth-ranked and top-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan at 2:30 p.m.
A second final, if needed, would be played on Friday.
Fourth-seeded Indiana Tech, which ousted No. 2 seed Middle Georgia State earlier in the day by scoring six times in the ninth inning for a 10-5 win, finished 40-20 with the loss – its second one-run setback at the hands of the RedStorm in as many days.
The Warriors appeared well on their way to avenging Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to Rio, taking a 3-1 lead into the ninth inning.
Junior Carlos Flores (Guayanilla, Puerto Rico) and freshman Dylan Shockley (Minford, OH) began the inning with consecutive singles against reliever Josh Wiesman, who retired the side in order in the eighth after taking over for starter Tyler Wells.
Sophomore Cody Blackburn (Amanda, OH) bunted both runners into scoring position, before junior Judah Wollenburg (Newark, OH) blooped a run-scoring single to center to get the RedStorm within a run.
Junior Luis Jimenez (Salinas, Puerto Rico) was hit by a pitch to load the bases and junior Daryin Lewis (Circleville, OH) subsequently drew a walk to score sophomore Ty Warnimont (Rio Grande, OH), who was courtesy running for Shockley.
Connor McLaughlin, who surrender a ninth inning home run to Jimenez in Tuesday’s meeting between the two teams, was brought in to face Yates – a senior from Chillicothe, Ohio – but Yates beat the relay throw to first on his grounder to shortstop, avoiding a double-play and allowing Wollenburg to score the go-ahead run.
Indiana Tech got a one-out walk from pinch-hitter Jagen Millspaugh in the bottom of the ninth, but freshman reliver Zach Russell (Wheelersburg, OH) – the last of three Rio hurlers – retired Brian Hakes on a strikeout looking and Tighe Koehring on a fly to center to seal his first collegiate win in three decisions.
The Warriors grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second on a two-out home run by Peyton Newsom off Rio freshman starter Zach Harvey (Kenova, WV), but the RedStorm tied the score on a two-out solo homer by Jimenez in the fifth.
Tech scored twice in the sixth inning after consecutive one-out singles by Hakes, Koehring, Glen McClain and Sipe – the latter two of which drove in runs.
Senior Chris Ford (Athens, OH) finished 2-for-3 in the win for Rio, while McClain and Sipe had two hits each in the loss for the Warriors.
Wells allowed five hits and one run over seven innings in a no-decision outing, while Wiesman suffered his third loss in five decisions.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.
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