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CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The Missouri Baptist Spartans played its most meaningful game of the season on Friday afternoon and made a statement in the NAIA. The baseball team came back from a two-run deficit with a three-run outburst in the seventh inning to beat the number-two team in the NAIA, 5-4.
Missouri Baptist (39-14) advanced to the championship game of the NAIA Opening Round regional tournament with a shocking upset over the only team to reach the 50-win plateau this season, Lee University. The Flames held the lead for the majority of the game, but Missouri Baptist added another come-from-behind victory to its resume.
Lee University (51-9-1) took an early lead in the first inning. Missouri Baptist starting pitcher Dave Williams hit the second batter of the game, which came around to score on Williams' throwing error when attempting to pick-off the runner at first. The runner came around to score and gave Lee its first lead of the game.
The Spartans went quickly in the first as the Flames' Patrick Merkling was fantastic. The junior struck-out three batters in the inning to start things off for Lee. Merkling looked great in the game, striking out seven batters in six innings of work.
The Flames tacked-on two more in the second inning to take a 3-0 lead. While Merkling looked very good, Missouri Baptist was able to get a couple of runs in the bottom of the third.
Joe Riley reached base on a wild throw by Flames' third baseman Roberto Duran, which resulted in the first run for Missouri Baptist. Patrick Johnson and Ryan Barban followed it up with two singles to send Riley home and put a runner in scoring position with one out.
Spartan slugger Scott Krutel came through for the first time on Friday with an RBI single to record the second run for the Spartans. Things were basically quiet until the seventh as Lee added an insurance run in the fifth inning.
Heading into the seventh, things were looking bleak for the Spartans. Williams recorded four hit batsmen in the game, one shy of the NAIA Opening Round record. As the team came to the plate, it had the eighth-place hitter, Yeriel Nieves, coming to bat.
Nieves led-off with a single to keep hope alive with the top of the order just one batter away. Joe Riley struck out on the next at-bat, placing Patrick Johnson at the plate.
The Spartan shortstop singled to shallow right, making it first and second with one away. Barban came to bat next and got his fourth base hit of the game to load the bases for Kyle Turner. Barban finished the game 4-4 with one RBI.
Turner popped-out on the infield, leaving the game squarely on the shoulders of Krutel with two outs. The first baseman has been in this position several times this season and came through yet again for Missouri Baptist. On a 0-2 count, Krutel hit a deep fly ball to the gap in right-center field, which cleared the bases, and gave the Spartans their first lead of the game.
Kyle Hardy flied-out to center to end the inning, leaving the game in the hands of Ben Dorman to close the door in the eighth and ninth innings. Dorman was extremely effective and earned his third save of the season in a two-inning effort. In the final two innings, Dorman struck-out two batters, walked one and allowed only one hit to preserve the lead.
Missouri Baptist now has 39 wins on the season and will try to make it 40 in tomorrow's championship game. The Spartans are now 3-4 in NAIA Opening Round play in its history.After knocking-off the number two-ranked team in the nation and the top seed in the Cleveland Region, the team will have an opportunity to play for its first NAIA College World Series berth on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. CST.