Kearney, Neb. – Senior left fielder Xavier Freeman drove in three runs and Central Oklahoma used six different pitchers to eliminate Nebraska-Kearney, 6-4, from the MIAA Tournament Friday night in Warrensburg, Mo.
The top-seeded Bronchos (33-18)) stay alive and will play another elimination game Saturday evening. The fifth-seeded Lopers finish 28-24 and end with 1,205 wins in its modern history (1961-2018).
Weather delayed the start of Friday’s action 1.5 hours. When UNK and the Bronchos took to the field at 2 p.m., a stiff wind was blowing in from right field. The breeze was consistent throughout the game, fitting weather for the final Loper game.
With MIAA Player of the Year Alex Achtermann (Denver) on the mound, UNK led 4-1 after six complete. A UCO error opened up the flood gates a bit in the fourth as the Lopers tacked on three runs. Redshirt freshman shortstop Peter Carlson (Arvada, Colo.) brought home a run with a sac fly and junior left fielderBrandon Hernandez (San Diego, Calif.) drew a walk with the bases full.
“They won the conference championship and are the number two team in the region for a reason. When we were up 4-1, we needed to get it to 5-1, 6-1. Get to that seven or eight number and put them to bed,” said Loper skipper Damon Day. “We had our opportunities but just couldn’t get a big knock to fall.”
Kearney was poised to bust things up when they loaded the bases with two down in the sixth. However, senior Ben Wusterbarth (2-0) came in and got a fielder’s choice to get out of the jam. Overall, UNK left 12 runners on base.
“Even when we got the three runs we needed to add more. I always set a number as the game goes through and I thought, with their offensive power, Alex did a great job of keeping them in check and giving us a chance,” said Day.
UCO made its move with one down in the seventh when Freeman (2 for 4), a College of Charleston transfer, hit a homer to left center. It was just the second dinger in six MIAA Tournament games.
“That was only one run but man did that breathe life into their dugout. The vibe got different as Alex had been in command since the first inning. That homer showed their hitters he can be gotten to and they were able to put a lot of pressure on us after that,” said Day.
Three singles followed to bring home another run with Achtermann getting a pop up to catcher Dallas Schramm (Millard North) to get out of the inning. However, the ‘Chos scored two more in the eighth and added an insurance run in the ninth.
All toll, UCO had eight of its 11 hits over the last three innings with Freeman having a two-run single in the eighth.
Wusterbarth picked up the win by throwing two scoreless innings while junior Josh Rutland picked up his eighth save by throwing the final 1.1 innings. Besides Freeman, leadoff hitter Kyle Miskovsky and cleanup hitter Trae Smith both went 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Senior second baseman Scott Platt (Longmont, Colo.) paced a seven-hit Loper attack by going 2 for 4 with a run scored from the seven hole. Next, Hernandez tied the school record for hits in a season (92) thanks to an infield in the sixth. He also set a new school mark for at bats (240) in a season. outfielder Nate Swearer had 237 in 2009.
On the mound, Achtermann threw five scoreless innings and ended up allowing four earned on a walk and eight hits. Finally, junior Thomas Ruwe (Arlington) threw a scoreless inning
“What a special group of young men. They stared adversity in the face and smiled. These guys went through a lot and it wasn’t an easy season to deal with,” said Day. “They are the last to wear the uniform and in some regards they earned that right. They represented our university and our community in a first class manner.”