MACON, Ga. — The University of Rio Grande scored five times in the sixth inning to erase a one-run deficit and fuel an eventual 8-4 win over Middle Georgia State University in the Macon Bracket of the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round, Monday night, at historic Luther Williams Field.
The RedStorm, who are seeded third in the five-team, double-elimination bracket, improved to 39-19 with their fifth straight victory.
Middle Georgia State, the No. 2 seed in the bracket and the nation’s 10th-ranked team in latest NAIA coaches’ poll, slipped to 39-15 with the loss.
Rio Grande will face top-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) University in Tuesday’s winner’s bracket final at 2:30 p.m. The Fire (49-10) knocked off the University of British Columbia, 4-1, in the last on Monday’s three first round contests.
The host Knights will face Huntington (Ind.) University – a loser to British Columbia in Monday’s opening game – in an elimination matchup on Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Middle Georgia took a 1-0 first inning lead on a two-out solo home run to right by Blake Jackson, but Rio knotted the score at 1-all in third on a two-out RBI single by freshman Clayton Surrell (Carroll, OH).
The Knights regained the lead in the home fifth on a one-out single by Zach Cornell and a two-out double by Guner Sellers, but the RedStorm gained the advantage for good in the top of the sixth by sending eight batters to the plate and scoring five times.
Junior Dylan Shockley (Minford, OH) reached on a two-base error to begin the inning and was replaced by senior courtesy runner Roanderson Severino (Reading, PA), who rode home moments later on a single to center by Surrell to tie the game at 2-2.
Senior David Rodriguez (Santo Domingo, D.R.) followed with a double to left that moved Surrell to third and fellow senior Michael Rodriguez (Santo Domingo, D.R.) lined a single to right to score both runners and give Rio Grande a two-run cushion.
One out later, consecutive doubles by freshman Gustavo Nava (Barranquilla, Columbia) and junior Kent Reeser (Miamisburg, OH) plated two more runs and pushed the lead to 6-2.
Middle Georgia cut the deficit in half in the seventh inning thanks to RBI singles by Sellers and Jacob Durant, but the RedStorm got the runs back in the ninth inning on a two-run single by David Rodriguez to set the final score.
David Rodriguez finished 3-for-5 with two RBIs to lead Rio Grande, while Reeser was 3-for-3 with a run batted in. Surrell had two hits and drove in two runs, while Nava was 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Senior right-hander Zach Harvey (Kenova, WV) started and got the win, allowing four runs and 11 hits over six innings.
The victory was Harvey’s 13th of the season, setting a new single-season school record in the process. Tyler Schunk and Ryan Robertson shared the previous record with 12 wins each in 2010.
Sophomore Caleb Fetzet (Van Wert, OH) allowed three hits and pair of walks over three scoreless innings of relief to earn a save.
Preston Sparks started and lost for Middle Georgia, allowing nine hits and six runs – four earned – over 5-1/3 innings.
Sellers had four hits and two RBIs for the Knights, while Zach Cornell, Jacob Durant and Chris Burgess all had two hits each in a losing cause.
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director at the University of Rio Grande.