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HUTCHINSON, Kan. – [BOX SCORE] In the most important game of the season thus far, early inning heroics and three clutch pitching performances sealed the deal for Missouri Baptist. On the back of a seven-run outburst in the first two innings, the Spartans finished strong and punched their ticket to the 2017 Avista-NAIA World Series with a 9-6 win over the Tabor (Kan.) Blue Jays on Wednesday.
Missouri Baptist (44-14) completed the sweep of the Hutchinson Bracket and clinched the second berth into the Spring Classic in team history with Wednesday's victory.
The Spartans jumped-out to a commanding lead early and held-on late thanks to the big bats in the Missouri Baptist order.
Aaron Collazo led-off the game with a double, which started the domino effect in the first two innings. The Spartan second baseman came around to score on a Drew Kitson RBI single moments later to make it 1-0. Kitson reached second on a walk, and third on a muffed throw by Kyle James, before he finally crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
Just as the Spartans looked dominant at the plate in the first, Donnie Lovelady looked the same way on the mound. The senior starter retired the first three batters in order to maintain the 2-0 lead.
The Spartans cashed-in five times in the second as Miles Fore and Brandon Schlichtig began things at the bottom of the order. Fore doubled to lead-off the inning and came around to score on an RBI single by the Missouri Baptist backstop to make it 3-0. A walk to Collazo and consecutive hits for Plant, Kitson and Rieman plated four more and pushed the lead out to seven with an inning and a half in the books.
Missouri Baptist allowed three runs in the second and a solo home run in the third by Jacob Jones to cut the lead to 7-4, but another big run came home in the top of the fourth. Drew Kitson recorded his third RBI of the day on a double to left field to give the visiting Spartans an 8-4 lead. In the midst of the inning, Jordan Harris was replaced on the mound by Alfredo Perez, a move which paid dividends down the stretch.
Just as they had done the entire tournament, however, the Blue Jays began the comeback. Brent McClure placed a double over the head of John Hagan in right field, scoring both Kyle James and A.J. Shaw, to cut the lead to 8-6. This, however, was as close as the Blue Jays would get.
Miguel Ruiz entered for the Spartans in the sixth and, once again, carried the load in a tough situation. The junior hurler allowed just one hit in two and a third innings as he stymied the powerful Tabor offense.
The Spartans posted another big run in the ninth on an infield single by Miles Fore to give his team a bit more breathing room.
Spartan closer Nick Vichio came into the game in the ninth, and though there was a bit of intrigue involved in his first strikeout, he finished the game with a 1-2-3 inning to preserve the victory.
As McClure stood at the plate with a one ball, two strike count, the next pitch came in high, but the Tabor right fielder moved his bat off his shoulder. The pitch was originally called a ball, but Brandon Schlichtig popped-up immediately to argue the point that the ball had been foul tipped and caught.
All four umpires met, after hearing the same from Coach Eddie Uschold, and the ruling was overturned on the field. Vichio went on to strike out Jordan Harris and got Jacob Jones to foul out to Austin Rieman to win it.
Missouri Baptist was led by Aaron Collazo and Drew Kitson. Collazo collected two doubles and a single while Kitson went 3-4 with three RBI.
At the conclusion of the game, the All-Tournament Team was announced and the Spartans had five named to the team, which are listed below.
The berth to the 2017 Avista-NAIA World Series is the second in team history for Missouri Baptist. The first came back in 2013 as the Spartans defeated Tennessee Wesleyan in 19 innings.
Missouri Baptist will now await word from the NAIA National Office on seeding as play is set to begin on Friday, May 26 at Harris Field on the campus of Lewis-Clark State (Idaho). Missouri Baptist will provide a free audio broadcast for all games of the World Series on the Spartan Digital Network.
Missouri Baptist All-Tournament Team Selections
Drew Kitson – Outfield
Culver Plant – Shortstop
Aaron Collazo – Second Base
Donnie Lovelady – Pitcher
Nick Vichio - Pitcher