• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Midway claims RSC baseball crown in first season

RSC CHAMPIONS. The Midway University baseball team celebrates winning the 2017 River States Conference Baseball Tournament Championship in just its first year as a program. The Eagles defeated Virginia Tech to claim the title. (Photo courtesy Midway athletics)

In just its first year as a program, the Midway University baseball team accomplished a feat on Tuesday, May 9, that sometimes takes teams years to complete – winning its conference championship. The Eagles did just that, winning the second championship game 9-7 over West Virginia Tech to claim the 2017 River States Conference Baseball Tournament Championship in their first year as a program. “I am so proud of all of these guys,” said Midway head coach Luther Bramblett. “We were fortunate enough to get hot at the right time as we played some of our best baseball of the season in the tournament.” Midway had to win a second championship game after the Golden Bears won the first championship game 4-1 to force a decisive winner-take-all game. It was the first-ever season for baseball at Midway University. Midway absorbed the program, coaches and players from St. Catharine, a local institution that closed its doors in June 2016. In all, five coaches and 18 players were part of the St. Catharine baseball program last year. During the 2017 regular season, Midway averaged 4.13 runs per game and batted .254, while slugging .350. But things changed for the Eagles in the postseason, where they averaged 8.6 runs per game, hitting .320, while slugging .440. The deciding championship game started as a back-and-forth affair, as both teams traded runs in the early going. After WVU Tech took an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, Midway answered with a run in the top of the second. Junior Danny Maguire walked, junior Tyler Jones then hit an infield single and senior Reid Battles was hit by the pitch to load the bases. Then, with two outs, senior Josh Wenning stepped to the plate and was hit by a pitch to force home Maguire from third and tie the game at 1-1. The Golden Bears bounced back in the bottom of the third, scoring three runs to regain the lead, 4-1, but Midway came back with two runs in the top of the fourth to make it 4-3. However, the Golden Bears answered the call once more and scored two in the fifth to push their lead to three runs, 6-3. Midway battled back once more with two runs in the sixth, cutting the lead to one run. In the inning, Maguire reached on a leadoff walk, and two batters later Jones picked a perfect time for his first collegiate home run, as he ripped a 1-0 fastball over the left field fence for a two-run home run, to make it a 6-5 ball game. Pitching on two days’ rest for Midway and giving his team five solid innings, junior James Davenport allowed six runs – four earned – on nine hits while fanning five batters in five innings. Replacing Davenport to begin the sixth was senior Derek Jones, who allowed a double in the bottom of the sixth, but finished the inning off with three strikeouts. Jones then got help from his offense, as Midway turned the tables on WVU Tech and scored three runs to take a lead for the first time in the game. Freshman Mathew Olson was walked to lead off the inning. Junior Barrett Croslin reached first on an error, while Olson advanced to third. Then with runners on the corners and one out, junior Carlos Cespedes hit an RBI single that scored Olson and advanced Croslin to third. With runners on the corners once again, one of the hottest hitters in the tournament for Midway, Maguire came through once again, ripping a double to deep left-center field to score both Croslin and Cespedes to give Midway an 8-6 advantage. With an 8-6 lead, Jones went right back to work on the mound and, while he allowed base runners in both the seventh and eighth innings, Midway ended the inning each time, stranding those runners to preserve the 8-6 lead as the game moved to the ninth. In the top of the ninth inning, the Eagles added an important insurance run. Junior DJ Lewis got to first on a walk, and stole second. Then with two outs, Wenning was intentionally walked to set up a force at any base. Olson came to the plate and delivered in the clutch, as he hit an RBI single that scored Lewis to give Midway’s a 9-6 lead heading to the bottom half of the ninth. In the ninth, with two outs, the Golden Bears scored on a single to cut the lead to 9-7, as the tying run in Wyatt Belinda stepped to the plate. Jones went right at Belinda – who was 1-for-4 for the game – and got him to lift a lazy, infield pop-up that junior Barrett Croslin caught for the final out to seal the 9-7 victory and bring home the first-ever RSC Baseball Championship to Midway. Shortly after making the catch, Croslin was mobbed by his teammates from field and the dugout, as a dog-pile ensued in front of the mound to celebrate the championship. Taking home the victory in a masterful relief appearance was Jones, as he tied his longest outing of the season with four innings out of the bullpen. Jones finished with five strikeouts, while allowing one run on three hits. Offensively, the quartet of T. Jones, Wenning, Olson and Maguire led the way. Each had two RBI, while Cespedes had one. Maguire and Lewis each scored twice, while five different Eagles had one run each. The win for Midway earned them an automatic berth in the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round. The 45-team tournament was played May 15 to 18 and featured nine, five-team double-elimination tournaments. Midway results will be in next week’s Woodford Sun. (Information courtesy of Dylan Brown/Midway Univ. Sports Information)

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