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CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Missouri Baptist ran into early trouble, but posted four runs on three hits in the top of the sixth inning to take a three run lead on the Freed-Hardeman Lions on Thursday. This proved to be the difference as the Spartans went on to a 9-6 upset victory in the first round of the NAIA Opening Round regional.
Missouri Baptist (38-14) came into the Cleveland, Tenn., region as the three-seed. The team needed a victory on day one in order to stay in the winner's bracket of the double-elimination tournament.
Bunk Coronado started the game for the Spartans, but struggled early. The Spartan ace gave-up two runs on eight hits in four innings, a very uncharacteristic outing for the senior.
It was the offense, however, that led the team to the win over the TranSouth Conference team. Missouri Baptist put two runs on the board in the third to take a 2-1 lead. After Kyle Turner flied out, slugger Scott Krutel came to the plate and drilled a stand-up triple over the center fielder's head to put the tying run on third with one out.
Lion's starting pitcher Roberto Ferguson surrendered consecutive walks to Kyle Hardy and Matt Harjung to load the bases for Todd Glime. The Missouri Baptist catcher came to the plate and knocked-in the game-tying RBI. In the next at-bat, Yeriel Nieves hit a sacrifice fly to center field to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.
At this point in the game, both teams began to put pressure on each other. The Lions tied the game in the bottom of the fourth on a Kyle Dearing sacrifice fly.
Missouri Baptist countered in the top of the fifth. Patrick Johnson led the inning off with a single and scored on a double play two batters later to take a one-run lead.
Freed-Hardeman countered in its next at-bat. The team posted two runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 4-3 lead. This was the final time that the Lions held a lead in the game.
Missouri Baptist exploded in the top of the sixth for four runs. Harjung singled with one out and Glime walked, giving the Spartans two on with no outs with Nieves coming to the plate. Nieves grounded into a fielder's choice, which advanced Harjung to third with two away.
Spartan left-fielder Joe Riley stepped to the plate in what ended up as the key moment of the game and hit a sharp grounder to third. Lion third baseman Evan Mansell misplayed the grounder, allowing Riley to reach first, and Harjung to score the tying run.
All-Conference First Team selection, Patrick Johnson, stepped to the plate and delivered a body blow, a two-run triple to deep right-center, to give MBU a two-run lead. Ryan Barban singled Johnson home, which proved to be the winning run, giving his team a 7-4 lead.
Missouri Baptist and Freed-Hardeman both added two runs down the stretch, as the Spartans prevailed in the first game of the postseason.
Barban delivered the game-winning hit, but was also charged with three errors on the day, a departure from his usual solid defensive play. Spartan starter Bunk Coronado received the win as he improved to 10-1 on the season.Missouri Baptist will now advance in the winner's bracket and will play the winner of the final game of the day featuring the NAIA number two-ranked Lee University Flames and the Bacone College Warriors. Friday's game will take place at 2:30 p.m. CST.