SEWARD, Neb. – (RV) Midland University completed its perfect run through the conference postseason tournament on Tuesday night at Plum Creek Park, defeating top-seeded Concordia University, 5-3, to win the 2017 GPAC Postseason Championship.
Conlon McKenzie‘s three-run home run in the fifth inning held as the game-winner.
The Warriors, playing in their fifth straight championship game, hoisted the postseason plaque for the second time since 2014.
“This championship is very satisfying in so many ways. Falling short at the end of the regular season was tough to swallow, but we remained confident in this team’s ability. It took a great deal of time to put it all together, but we played our best baseball at the right time,” said head coach Chad Miller.
Midland wasted little time jumping out to a 2-0 lead on the regular-season champion Bulldogs on their home field. Robert Cummins and Alex Bee each singled and came around to score on McKenzie’s two-run double in the top of the first frame.
Concordia quickly cut its deficit in half in the bottom of the first, but Midland starter Daylon Owens stranded a pair of runners to end the inning.
Owens held the Bulldogs at bay as both teams went scoreless in the second inning before the home team tied the game on an unearned run in the bottom of the third.
McKenzie delivered the game-winning blow in the top of the fifth with two outs against Concordia reliever Desmond Pineda. McKenzie drilled the second pitch he saw from Pineda over the left field fence for a three-run homer.
With the lead in toe, the Warrior bullpen was dominant over the final five innings of the ballgame.
Shea Bennett (6-5) earned the win in relief for Midland. The senior right-hander scattered three hits over 3.2 IP of scoreless work.
“Shea threw the ball really well for us and was the bridge we needed to get to the back end of our bullpen. I can’t say enough about how valuable Conlon has been for this team, both at the plate and on the mound. Cole [Gray] and Justin Trevino really defended up the middle well tonight as well,” Miller said.
A trio of Warrior relievers followed Bennett, each facing situations with the tying run at the plate, but didn’t waver.
Dillon Cotner entered the game with two on and two out in the bottom of the seventh against Bulldog slugger Christian Montero. Cotner fell behind in the count 3-0 before delivering three straight strikes to catch Montero looking for the final out of the inning.
McKenzie, who drove in five runs at the plate, took over on the mound in the eighth and allowed an unearned run while stranding the tying runs on base.
Alex Bee locked down his team-leading seventh save of the season in the ninth to incite a Warrior dogpile on the Bulldog mound.
Cole Gray went 2-for-5 for MU and is now just four hits away from tying the program’s single-season hit record (84).
Midland improves to 40-18 with the victory and has reached the 40-win plateau for the second straight year and the third time in four seasons.
“It was never easy for this team, and there was an inordinate amount of adversity we had to overcome to accomplish this. Every team at this level has its share of obstacles to overcome, but the injuries we sustained and the amount of personnel shuffling we went through was extreme,” Miller added. “Winning championships never gets old, and that’s what we’ve come to expect at Midland University.”
The loss drops Concordia to 33-20.
Both teams have earned bids to the 2017 NAIA National Championship Opening Round scheduled for May 15-18. Opening round assignments will be announced on Thursday at 3 p.m.