ORANGE CITY, Iowa | Home runs were clearing the fence at a crazy rate Monday afternoon at the Northwestern Baseball Complex.
Two of the game-high five round-trippers for fifth-seeded Morningside came in the first inning of the Great Plains Athletic Conference championship game of the Northwestern Bracket. Joe Genoways belted a two-run shot, then Jordan Pierce cleared the right field fence for a 3-0 lead.
Top-seeded Northwestern set the tone for its comeback on Christian Stekl’s solo homer in the bottom of the first. Zach Rosson highlighted a four-run second inning with a two-run home run and the Red Raiders advanced to the title game of the GPAC Tournament with an 11-8 victory.
“It was a well-played baseball game between two great teams,” said Northwestern Coach Brian Wede. “The wind was blowing out there. We knew there would be some home runs and some runs scored. We calmed down. We limited our mistakes. Morningside didn’t make many mistakes. Our guys did a good job of eliminating free bases.”
Northwestern will take a 29-12 record into Wednesday night’s 5 o’clock GPAC Tournament championship game where it will host second-seeded Midland (32-19). The game was originally scheduled for tonight, but due to predicted storms, the game was moved ahead.
Both Northwestern and Midland have already clinched spots into the NAIA Opening Round. Midland won the bracket it hosted, hiking its winning streak to 11 games following Monday’s 16-0 rout over Mount Marty.
Wede, who now has six NAIA national appearances in his 12 years as Northwestern’s coach, felt Stekl’s home run Morningside starting pitcher Cameron Wagner gave his team confidence. The Red Raiders then sent nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the second, taking a 5-3 lead when A.J. Nitzschke walked and scored on Stekl’s double to right-center.
Four different Red Raiders had at least one hit in the second.
“Our guys have been doing that all year, finding ways to respond,” said Wede. “Our four-run second inning really let Morningside know they were in for a dogfight. That was a really big inning for us. It all started with a hit by pitch, then a walk and two hits after that. Our lineup from one to nine is able to put the ball out of the park at any point.”
Morningside (22-25-1) chipped away at Northwestern’s lead as Derek Clayton doubled down the right-field line in the fourth inning and scored on Dylan Mersola’s single. Fifth-inning action saw the Mustangs’ Nate DeChaine hit his 14th home run of the season, a solo shot that tied the game 5-5.
Northwestern snapped the tie in the bottom of the fifth on Michael Callahan’s leadoff home run, his eighth of the season. Later in the frame, Mitchell Kresnik’s two-run single increased the lead to 8-5.
Mitch Kellogg’s sixth-inning leadoff home run pulled Morningside within 8-6, but Northwestern got an RBI double from Colton Harold in the seventh. The Red Raiders put the game out of reach when Max Martin highlighted a two-run eighth inning with a solo home run.
Still, Morningside kept the game competitive on Andrew Kasperbauer’s two-run home run in the ninth.
“(Morningside) is a really good team, really well-coached,” said Wede. “As comfortable as you are in leading in a game, they have guys capable of going deep. We were sure of that when they tied it up. Credit their team to sticking with it when they were down.”
Stekl was 3-for-4 with two RBIs for the Red Raiders while Harold was 3-for-4 and scored twice. Martin and Reed Smith were each 2-for-5 for a team that outhit the Mustangs 15-13.
DeChaine was 2-for-2 for Morningside and walked three times. Kellogg, Pierce and Levi Davidson each added two hits.
Winning pitcher Raphael DeHoyos (6-3) allowed six earned runs, 10 hits and two walks while striking out six in five innings.
Wagner (4-1) suffered the pitching loss, yielding eight earned runs, nine hits and one walk while striking out four.
Northwestern has won three of the four games in the series against Midland this season. Overall, the Red Raiders have won 11 of their last 13 games.
“They’ve been really close games,” said Wede. “Three of those four games could have gone either way. We know it’s going to be a good game. We can’t make mistakes like giving away a free base at the wrong time. (Midland) is on an 11-game winning streak, but our guys have a lot of confidence. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”