HILLSBORO--- The McPherson College baseball team got a solid start on the mound from Javier Saenz but Tabor College plated three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to escape with a 4-3 victory Sunday afternoon in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference (KCAC) series finale between the schools.
The Bulldogs (27-19, 6-16 KCAC), who had a runner reach in four of the first five innings, finally broke through with a run in the sixth as pinch-runner Hunter Dreiling scored on a wild pitch by Tabor starter Brandon Whetnight after Lane Fleming and Isaac Taylor hit back-to-back one-out singles. Another wild pitch and a walk put runners at the corners with two outs but Brevin Baessler was caught stealing second to end the inning.
The Bluejays (28-14, 19-5 KCAC) nearly tied the game in the bottom half of the frame as Freddy Walker reached on a one-out single through the left side followed by a Jaxson Hooge double to center. Running on the play, Walker was cut down at the plate by Dominick Ramos when Dylan Fontenot's relay throw from Reily Martin hit the mark.
The equalizer came in the next inning as Seth Loyd scored on a Jaden Alsop RBI single. Tabor loaded the bases in the inning but could not push another run across as Walker struck out to end the inning.
After a scoreless eighth that saw both teams strand runners in scoring position, McPherson used small-ball tactics to plate a pair of runs in the top of the ninth. Baessler opened the inning with a single to right and was lifted in favor of pinch-runner Trent Smith. Smith moved to second when Justin Risdall reached after pushing a two-strike bunt past a charging Alsop at second base.
Mark Strebin followed with a bunt back to Hayden Wheeler in front of the mound. After feinting a throw to third, Wheeler turned and fired to first. His throw sailed wide of the bag, allowing Smith to score.
That signaled the end of Wheeler's day as Tabor brought Tommy Sleva in from the bullpen. The Bullodgs tacked on one more run as Martin dropped yet another bunt down right in front of the plate - just far enough out to allow Risdall to score from third. Tabor got a strikeout and walked Trevor Haycock intentionally to load the bases with just one one in the frame, but Sleva struck out Ramos and Fleming to prevent any further damage.
Saenz was able to get a fly-out to center to open the bottom of the ninth but, after allowing a single to pinch-hitter Sammy Silva and issuing a four-pitch walk to Abdiel Alicea Diaz, was removed in favor of Jake Herman. Walker loaded the bases with a long single off the right-field wall, then Hooge ripped a two-run double down the left-field line to tie the game.
Following an intentional walk to set up a force play at the plate, Cameron Pope launched a ball into left-center that was corralled by Martin. Tagging at third, Walker easily beat the throw to the plate for the game-winning run.
"That would have been a nice win to hang your hat on - one to look back to down the road - but we weren't able to get it done," commented head coach Bryan Moses.
Saenz, making his first collegiate start, took a no-hitter into fifth inning that was broken up by a William Clark one-out single through the left side. He ended up scattering three runs on eight hits and three walks while striking out three in 8 1/3 innings. Herman was charged with the loss.
"We're proud of what Saenz did today," added Moses. "He faced one of the top lineups in the conference and he threw three pitches for strikes whenever he wanted to. He wasn't scared, he attacked hitters, he worked inside, and he did everything a starting pitcher needs to do. I thought he was fantastic today."
Whetnight threw seven innings, allowing one run on five hits and three walks while striking out seven but did not factor into the decision as Sleva picked up the win.
"Sleva may be the KCAC Reliever of the Year this year," said Moses. "We knew we needed to do some things to put the ball in play and make things happen, so when we asked guys to lay down a bunt, they did it. It got the defense moving and we forced Tabor to make some decisions."
Regarding Risdall's bunt with two strikes, Moses remarked "For him, as a freshman, to get it down - in a very competitive environment says something about the kid."
Fleming led McPherson with three hits and a walk, while Martin had a pair of base knocks and an RBI.
Hooge had two hits - both doubles - and drove in a pair, while Walker and Clark also had a pair of hits.
The Bulldogs kick off a stretch of six home games Tuesday afternoon when Central Christian College pays a visit to Bulldog Park to cap the four-game season series between the schools. First pitch is slated for 4 p.m.
"I know our guys want to sweep Central," Moses noted. "There are some things we need to work on, though. With Bethany on the weekend and Saint Mary the Tuesday after, our pitching staff is going to be tested unlike any other time this season. [The coaches] just need to get into the office to discuss how we want to attack everybody."