HCAC home opener ends with pair of thrillers

HCAC home opener ends with pair of thrillers

NORTH MANCHESTER, IND. – Manchester University and Mt. St. Joseph University gave the fans at Spartan Field all they could ask for Saturday, April 4.

The host Spartans (8-7 overall, 3-1 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference) and the visiting Lions (11-5 overall, 1-3 HCAC) battled through 18 innings in a doubleheader. MSJ plated three runs in the top of the eighth inning of game one and held off a rally by the home side for an 8-6 win, while the Black and Gold answered with an 8-7, 10-inning decision in the nightcap, plating two scores in their half of the 10th.

MU's nightcap victory was a microcosm of its afternoon. Rallying back from 4-1, 5-4, 6-5, and 7-6 deficits, the Spartans found their offense at key spots. In a three-run third, it came from junior catcher Kaile Niezgodski (South Bend, Ind.) and freshman second baseman Laurren Ladwig (Crown Point, Ind.) with an RBI triple (Niezgodski) and run-scoring single (Ladwig). A pair of sacrifice flies that plated single runs in the eighth and ninth kept the extra innings battle going, while, in the 10th, an RBI bunt single from senior shortstop Emily Willmann (Montpelier, Ind.) and an RBI ground out off the bat of junior third baseman Jessica Chorak (Hammond, Ind.), with Willmann hustling home and eluding the tag at home plate, scored the tying and decisive runs in the 8-7 win.

Senior pitcher Ashlea Nash, moving to 6-2 on the season, turned in a gritty performance on the mound. Despite being nicked for three extra base hits, the Gas City, Ind., native struck out three, didn't surrender a free pass and allowed only five earned runs.

Mt. St. Joseph starter Paige Kieswetter proved to be a tough puzzle for the home-standing Spartans to solve in game one. For the first four-plus frames, the freshman limited the home team to just two hits, while the visiting team offense struck early with a three-run first inning rally. However, Coach Josh Dzurick's squad, trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the sixth, started their surge.

After a two-out error in the sixth, freshman second baseman Laurren Ladwig (Crown Point, Ind.) launched a two-run home run over the center field fence to cut the deficit to 5-3. After a key double play by the Spartans stopped a potential Lions' rally in the top of the seventh, senior shortstop Emily Willmann (Montpelier, Ind.) ripped a double into the right field corner, sending in two runs for a 5-5 tie. From that point, the visitors staged their eighth-inning rally behind two RBI doubles and a wild pitch in route to the decision.

The Black and Gold, sitting third on the league standings behind unbeaten Transylvania University and Anderson University, resume their current six-game homestand Tuesday, April 7. Defending league champion Anderson University comes to Spartan Field for a 3:30 p.m. doubleheader.

NOTES: Ladwig, who has homered in four of the last five games, has seen her batting average sky-rocket in the span by better than 200 points (.200-.406) … Willmann increased her on-base streak to 21 successive contests and hitting string to nine games in a row behind a two-hit, two-RBI opener and one-hit, three-run scored effort in game two.