PORTSMOUTH – Resiliency was the name of the game Thursday afternoon for the Shawnee State baseball team Thursday afternoon at Branch Rickey Park. The Bears (14-9) trailed 2-1 after three-and-a-half innings in game one before pulling off a 6-3 victory. In game two, the Bears trailed after the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth (extra) innings. They were also unable to keep Concordia off the scoreboard from the fourth inning on in that second game, but found a way to tie the game in the seventh and win it with three in the bottom of the eighth after the Cardinals had scored two in their top half.
The Bears scored in their first at-bats of the opening game as Todd Queener got the offense going with a leadoff double and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly to by Joe Henderson. However, Concordia would answer right back with runs in the second and third to take a 2-1 lead after three.
SSU was unable to really get to Cardinals starter Jack Scheel until the fourth inning when it got four runs to retake the lead. The inning started with a one-out hit-by-pitch that was followed by a Tyler Bice single and Brady Hightchew walk to load the bases. A walk drawn by Todd Queener and a wild pitch would score the first two runs. Calvin Sluberski, who was at-bat during the wild pitch, would bring home the third and fourth runs of the inning with a double to deep right field, giving the Bears a 4-2 lead after four innings.
Sluberski, who was also the starting pitcher and went six innings and allowed just three runs on seven hits en route to his first career SSU victory, would allow his third and final run in the top of the fifth but worked a scoreless sixth before turning the ball over to closer Jordan Williams. Williams allowed a leadoff walk that was nullified by a double play ball before getting the final out after a two-out single to nail down his fourth save of the season.
The second game saw the Bears go up by two early after Katayama drew a walk to start the second. He was driven in on a double by Bice, who would eventually come around on a Charles Matsunami hit. However, the Cardinals would answer back with four runs on four hits, including three straight to start the inning in their next at=bats. They would add another run in the fifth and take a 5-2 lead into the bottom half.
From that point on, the Cardinals could not seem to slow down the Bears offense. SSU cut the lead down to just one run in the bottom of the fifth. Colin Keim started the inning off with a leadoff single. Bice would then reach on a walk and the two runners would move into scoring position on a balk call. That would loom large in the inning as Jake Lankheit would then drive both of them home with the two-RBI pinch-hit single.
Concordia quickly answered back with two more runs of their own in the top of the sixth. After two quick outs, the Cardinals would work three straight walks and score runs on a hit-by-pitch and passed ball to take a 7-4 advantage. Sluberski started the Bears' half of the sixth with a single and Keim would reach base via a one-out walk. The Cardinals would get the second out on a fly to deep right field but Katayama would come up with the clutch two-out hit as he doubled down the left field line to score both runners. This brought the Bears back to within one, 7-6, heading to the seventh inning.
Nolan West came on in relief in the seventh and quickly retired the first two batters he faced before hitting the third. That runner was then moved into scoring position via another balk call – this one going against the Bears. After being moved into scoring position, a two-out single gave the Cardinals an 8-6 lead going into the bottom of the seventh.
A fielding error and walk put the potential game-tying runs on base for SSU in the seventh. They were bunted into scoring position by Queener. A groundout to second by Hightchew would bring one home but left the other standing on third with two outs. That would quickly change as Concordia uncorked a wild pitch, allowing the game-tying run to score and sending the game to extra innings.
A leadoff single by the Cardinals in the top of eighth made its way to third with two outs, but another two-out rally that featured a single followed by a double scored two and once again the Bears would find themselves down a pair with just one chance to tie or take the lead.
Back-to-back-to-back singles by Cody Spires (who picked up the victory after pitching the top of the eighth), Katayama and Bice loaded the bases with nobody out and gave the home crowd hope. Lankheit would bring the first run of the bottom half home with a sacrifice fly and Hightchew would tie the game with a single. With runners on second and third after a throw home on the previous single, the Cardinals walked Queener. However, that move would not pan out as Sluberski came up with the walk-off hit to deep right field, sending the Bears home 11-10 winners in eight innings. That hit was Sluberski's second walk-off of the season after he did the same thing earlier in the year against West Virginia Tech.
After a drama-filled evening at Branch Rickey Park, the Bears will be back at it tomorrow vs. Cumberland University for a single game at 2 p.m. The two teams will also play a doubleheader this Saturday beginning at noon. The Bulldogs were receiving NAIA Top 25 votes in the preseason poll.