FRANKLIN, IND. – A pair of underclassmen and another stellar bullpen effort from senior Brandon Eck (Fort Wayne, Ind.) aided Manchester University in gaining a 1-1 record over the first day of the 2018 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships Thursday, May 10.
Sophomore designated hitter Joe Gallatin (Muncie, Ind.), continuing a six-game hitting stretch in which he's pestering opposing pitching to the tune of a .421 batting average, singled twice and drove in a run. First baseman Isaiah Knight-Neraasen (Fort Wayne, Ind.) added a three-hit, three-run-scored effort as part of a five-for-eight day at the dish at Franklin College's John P. McDowell Field. With those two leading an eight-run, 10-hit offensive outburst, Coach Rick Espeset's team managed to topple fifth-seeded Bluffton University 8-5 in the tourney's first contest.
The road to that clinched the program's 10th consecutive 20-or-more win campaign was highlighted by a three-run eighth that broke up a 5-5 tie. A pair of Beaver errors plated Knight-Neraasen and junior outfielder Braxton Riley (Fort Wayne, Ind.), and senior outfielder Eric Knepper (Bremen, Ind.) tallied a run-scoring safety. On the other side of the equation, Eck continued a run of nine consecutive scoreless innings, shutting down BU's bats over the final one and two-thirds which included a pair of K's for his third save which supported fellow Class of 2018 pitcher Taylor Kopplin's (Westport, Ind.) sixth victory.
MU (20-21) proceeded to give top-seeded tourney host and D3Baseball.com highly-touted Franklin all it could handle on its home field later in the day. Espeset's side led 2-0, 4-2 and had the Grizzlies tied 6-6 before a three-run rally over the final three frames dropped the Black and Gold into a Friday, May 11, elimination contest due to a 9-6 defeat.
Junior outfielder Tyler LaFollette (Warsaw, Ind.) registered three hits; Gallatin came back with a home run, run scored and two RBI; and Knight-Neraasen collected two safeties and scored a run to top the visiting offense. The pitching trio of senior Stephen Pinarski (Goshen, Ind.); senior Garrett Phelps (Covington, Ind.) and Eck kept the juggernaut home offense in check throughout and finished with a combined seven strikeouts.
The Spartans resume action at the tournament Friday at 3:30 p.m. against the winner of an elimination match-up between Anderson University and BU.