NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. – Just as they did throughout the 2014 season, Manchester University fought until its final out in the 2014 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships Saturday, May 10.
The Black and Gold, seeking a third successive league tourney title, had a tough task after a heart-breaking 8-7 late-innings loss to Rose-Hulman May 9 in the winner's bracket contest. However, MU (26-17) overcame a pair of deficits in an elimination game against Anderson University to win a 7-6, 10-inning thriller in their first game of the day before lone championship unbeaten Rose-Hulman held off a furious ninth-inning rally for a second successive day to win the tournament with a 6-3 final.
Against AU, a bases-loaded walk to sophomore third baseman Sean Knepper (Bremen, Ind.) forced in the winning run in the home half of the 10th inning. Both sides held the lead in regulation with the Spartans plating two in the first and three in the fifth, while AU (26-15) tallied three in the third and single runs in the fifth and sixth. Between those offensive outbursts, MU junior starting pitcher Sean Liedtky (Walkerton, Ind.) and Ravens' starter Cameron Dotson each turned in workmanlike efforts on the mound, as Liedtky fired nine frames with only two earned runs allowed, and Dotson went seven and two-thirds innings.
Manchester University's offense was topped by a pair of three-hit games from freshman first baseman Tailur Szarenski (Bluffton, Ind.) and junior second baseman Logan Hug (Indianapolis, Ind.). Junior center fielder Kyle Norris (Indianapolis, Ind.) turned in a two-RBI effort to help make senior pitcher Dylan Padgett (Kirklin, Ind.), who came in from the bullpen in the ninth, the winner.
Rose-Hulman (26-16) jumped out to a quick lead on the home side in the championship round, plating four runs in the first. From there, Padgett, just two days removed from a 127-pitch outing against Franklin College, knuckled down and gave up only three hits over the next five-plus innings to keep the home crowd hopeful. The Spartans cut the deficit to 4-1 with a single tally in the fifth behind an RBI sacrifice fly from senior right fielder Ryne Lehrman (Hoagland, Ind.).
After the Fightin's Engineers knocked Padgett from the game with two scores in the eighth, MU answered with two in the ninth and brought the potential tying run to the plate with two outs. A long foul fly down the right field line was caught on the run to close the game.
Knepper, sophomore catcher Elliott Ford (Rome City, Ind.) and Szarenski each drilled two hits for the Spartans. Padgett turned in a gutty seven-innings plus effort with a strikeout and only three earned runs allowed, while freshman Corey Ferguson (Fort Wayne, Ind.) was sterling out of the bullpen, striking out two Rose-Hulman hitters with the bases loaded in the eighth and then retiring them in order in the ninth.
NOTES: Padgett, Szarenski and Norris earned all-tournament accolades for the Spartans … MU reached the league tournament finals for the fifth successive season and concluded its 16th appearance in 18 years in the HCAC tournament under the direction of head coach Rick Espeset … Their 26-win total marked the sixth successive season of 25-or-more victories.