DRIVER'S SEAT: Lions book spot in MIAA championship

May 10—PITTSBURG, Kan. — No. 2 Missouri Southern State University is in the driver's seat of the MIAA conference tournament.

After a 9-5 victory over No. 3 Pittsburg State University on Thursday, it headed back to Kansas on Friday and earned an 8-4 win over No. 5 Washburn.

But head coach Bryce Darnell isn't thinking about the driver's seat.

"I guess. But, I mean, tomorrow's a new day," he said. "I thought today was really good. We had some big hits, even though we did ground into three double plays with the bases loaded."

The Lions — ranked seventh in the nation — need one more victory at noon Saturday to become MIAA tournament champions for the first time since 2015. In fact, only three teams have won this tournament dating back to 2015 — MSSU, the University of Central Missouri and Lindenwood University, which is now in Division I.

Southern got itself into this opportunity on the strength of another strong start and more offensive production.

Darnell handed the ball to freshman Keaton Anderson on Friday. The right-hander from Kirksville, Missouri, gave his coach and team what they needed with five innings of work, just two earned runs on six hits, and no walks. He struck out four batters in his first MIAA tournament start.

"He's done that, what, three or four times in a row now?" Darnell asked. "That's why we moved him in there. Supercompetitive kid, and he's got three pitches."

Anderson talked about his nerves taking the bump on a big stage in the postseason.

"There were obviously some nerves, but after the first couple pitches, they went away pretty quickly," he said.

Anderson pitched through five innings and the fifth was his quickest and most efficient as it was the only frame he retired the Ichabods in order without allowing a single baserunner.

His changeup is his go-to pitch and was in this contest, but he used his curveball more than usual as he felt it working well.

"When you have these guys behind you on the mound, it's easy to throw strikes and fill up the zone because you feel like nothing will fall," Anderson said. "And then when you have those guys at the plate, I feel like they're the best offense in the nation. They give me a lot of confidence on the mound."

The offense backed Anderson up, and it started with Drew Townsend's long flies over the right field fence. Townsend sent a no-doubter over the fence in the top of the third to tie the game at 1-1 and again a solo shot in the fifth to tie it at 2-2.

"Both home runs I was just trying to get the momentum started. I think we had one out and no one on each time," Townsend said. "I just got something good to hit in the middle and did what I could with it."

Townsend knew both were gone immediately after contact, especially the first one.

Washburn started the scoring with an RBI-single in the second inning from Payton McHarg. Then, it got the lead back in the third with a home run off the bat of Hayden Priest that left the field in a hurry as a low line drive to make it 2-1.

Anderson settled in after that, only allowing one more baserunner in the next eight outs.

Will Doherty gave MSSU the lead with a bouncing ball through the left side of the infield just between third base and shortstop to score Ethan Clark and make it 3-2. That was in the fifth inning. In the sixth inning, Clark slapped a single into right field that scored two, and Doherty followed him with another single to make it 6-2.

Clark got another RBI on a single in the eighth frame to make it 7-4. Then it was Drew Davis' turn in the ninth when he hit a ball hard just past first base and down the right field line for a double and and RBI to make it 8-4.

With the lead heading into the bottom of the sixth, Darnell went to his bullpen and brought in Kyle Kaempf. Anderson admitted he wanted the sixth but said, "It's a team game," and his teammates got the job done behind him.

Kaempf and Laif Hultine combined to record the last 12 outs and only allowed two runs on a double Kaempf surrendered to Washburn's Cash Jay. That made it 6-4 in the seventh.

Hultine came on to get the last seven outs after Jay's double and didn't allow any runs.

"I think the biggest thing was just filling up the zone, throwing strikes and challenging batters," Hultine said.


Washburn was forced to use seven pitchers and again, the Lions bounced a starter out before getting through five innings as Cooper Carlgren eventually lost his rhythm for the Ichabods.

Townsend led the Lions with four runs scored. He was on base four times with his two home runs and two walks. He had two RBIs. Clark finished 3 for 5 with three RBIs to lead the team in runs driven in. Doherty also went 3 for 5 and drove in two runs.

Former Joplin Eagle Grant Jones was on base four times with two hits and two walks for Washburn. He scored once.


Hultine and Townsend talked about how the team has performed the last two days and where they're at heading into Saturday's championship.

"We're in a really good position, but this is not the time to get complacent. We have to keep our foot on the gas and play our ball," Hultine said.

"A great two games we've played so far. Just team baseball from the first inning to the ninth inning," Townsend said. "What's great about our team is we're not done yet and we expect more tomorrow."