MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - The Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Ohio) baseball team split a Crossroads League doubleheader with Spring Arbor (Mich.) University on Saturday at Cougar Field as the host Cougars handed head coach Keith Veale his 800th career victory with a big comeback in the first game.
MVNU (26-9, 18-6 Crossroads League) dug itself a big hole in the first game as Spring Arbor (19-14, 15-5 Crossroads League) got a two-run homer from Shane Street in the top of the first inning and then scored five times on just three hits in the top of the second inning to build a commanding 7-0 lead after two times to the plate.
Then, in the bottom of the second inning, the host Cougars began their rally as sophomore catcher Clint Spencer and senior outfielder Jordan Doherty both had RBI singles and sophomore second baseman Sterling Harpst added a run-scoring ground out to pull MVNU within 7-3.
The Cougars came all the way back to knot the score at 7-7 in the bottom of the fourth inning when Doherty had another RBI single, sophomore outfielder Andrew Fila blasted a two-run triple, and junior first baseman Seth Eller hustled out a run-scoring infield single.
Spring Arbor wasted no time in regaining the lead when Mark Weist pounded a solo homer in the top of the fifth inning and Jacob Walker added a sacrifice fly to put the visiting Cougars back on top 9-7.
The score stayed that way until the bottom of the seventh inning when sophomore outfielder Jake Dickerson, freshman shortstop Riley Swanson, and junior third baseman Jeff Stone had back-to-back-to-back singles to start the frame and pull MVNU within 9-8.
Then, with two outs, Doherty ripped a triple to right center to plate two runs and give the host Cougars a dramatic 10-9 walk-off victory as Swanson and pinch runner Cory Brown scampered around the bases. The win was the 800th in head coach Keith Veale's illustrious 24-year career guiding MVNU.
Doherty finished 3-for-4 with four RBI to lead the Cougars, while Dickerson, Swanson, and Spencer each added two hits apiece to the 13-hit attack.
Spring Arbor was led by Street with two hits and four RBI, while Weist, JP Maracani, and Maverick Nichols also had two hits apiece.
Freshman right-hander Ben Hoar started and worked 4.2 innings for MVNU as he allowed seven hits, five walks, and nine runs (six earned) with three strikeouts. Freshman lefty Logan Perkins (3-0) tossed 2.1 scoreless innings to pick up the win as he gave up just two hits while striking out five batters.
Jerry Ferris started and lasted five innings as he allowed nine hits, two walks, and seven runs with three strikeouts for Spring Arbor. Alex Zeiher (1-1) gave up three hits and three runs in 1.1 innings as he took the loss in relief, and Eddie Rakotz recorded one out and surrendered Doherty's game-winning triple.
"We found ourselves down big after their first two at bats," said Veale. "Ben struggled with command today. He had five walks and four of those scored. We fought so hard to get back in the game, but we gave it right back with a home run on a two-strike pitch left over the center of the plate and another walk that scored."
"Logan was really good for us today," Veale added. "He shut down their offense and gave us one more shot in the bottom of the seventh. I felt if we could keep things close that we still had a chance in the seventh. It started so innocently with Jake dumping a ball into center field. Riley and Jeff followed with a couple well struck balls. And Jordan squared his ball real well into right center. At that point it was just how fast can we run. Cory was motoring pretty good and we got him home easily."
Spring Arbor started the second game just like it had the first game as the visiting Cougars scored two runs in the top of the first inning for an early lead as they took advantage of two errors and a wild pitch to go on top 2-0.
The lead grew to 5-0 in the top of the fourth inning as Spring Arbor registered five hits including a two-run single by Jonathan Newman and a run-scoring hit by Street.
With MVNU down to its final two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, freshman catcher Efrain Montero ripped an RBI double to help the Cougars avoid being shut out for the first time this season. Eller hustled out an infield single to drive in another run, but MVNU could get no closer as the Cougars fell 5-2 to have their 10-game winning streak come to an end.
Sophomore pitcher Kenny McCambridge (5-2) took the loss as he started and worked 4.2 innings as he allowed eight hits, two walks, and five runs (three earned) with two strikeouts. Perkins tossed 2.1 more scoreless innings of relief as he retired all seven batters he faced and struck out two.
Greg Blanco (4-4) nearly pitched his third shutout of the season as he scattered eight hits over seven innings before giving up the two seventh-inning runs as he picked up the complete game win for Spring Arbor.
Eller, Stone, and Fila each had two hits to lead MVNU at the plate, while Street, Nichols, and Newman registered two hits apiece for Spring Arbor.
"We made a couple of errors, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch in the first inning and they had two runs without a base hit," said Veale. "After a great come-from-behind walk-off win, it was not what we were looking for. We gave the momentum right back to them early in game two. We just gave away too many at bats in the middle of this game to have a fighting chance."
"We did some things today that we haven't been doing," Veale added. "We broke down on defense and gave them too many free base runners. We have to play mistake-free against good teams. With one more week in the regular season, it's great to be with a team that has lots to play for at this time of the year."
When asked about reaching the 800-win milestone, Veale, who has posted an 800-404 mark with the Cougars (.664 winning percentage), was quick to point the success to coach in the opposite dugout on Saturday - Spring Arbor's Sam Riggleman, who coached Veale in college at John Wesley (Mich.) College and later had Veale as an assistant at MVNU while he was posted a 226-144 record with the Cougars from 1980-1988.
"Honestly, I was a bit surprised," said Veale of the milestone. "I owe much of my opportunities and success to the guy in the other dugout today. I have been so blessed to have had a mentor the caliber of Sam Riggleman. I think you saw a couple of teams today that looked similar in their style of play and the way they go about playing the game. That's not an accident. There's winning and there is winning the right way. I am so thankful to know the difference."
The two teams are slated to square off for another Crossroads League doubleheader on Tuesday at Spring Arbor at 2 p.m.