Holst delivers Southeast Missouri State baseball's walk-off win over Missouri State
Dan Holst had gone 14 straight at-bats without getting a hit as he found himself standing at the plate Wednesday in a tie ball game with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Holst eradicated his slump with one swing, sending Danny Wright across home plate on a single through the right side, as the Southeast Missouri State baseball team edged Missouri State 5-4 in walk-off fashion at Capaha Field.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak and provided some much-needed confidence for the Redhawks (7-7), who are currently without leadoff hitter and second baseman Trevor Ezell.
"We're just going to try to out-compete this thing and keep grinding, and I know we're going to get healthy late. And we're going to get hot," Southeast coach Andy Sawyers said. "We've just got to kind of grind through that right now."
Wright got things started for the Redhawks in the final inning with a leadoff single to right before advancing to second on a bunt by No. 9 hitter Connor Basler. Clayton Evans reached on a walk before Chris Osborne provided his second hit of the day, a single that nearly escaped the left side of the infield and loaded the bases for Holst with one out.
"Nobody tried to do too much. I thought that was the biggest part," Holst said about SEMO's final half inning. "... We really got tough there at the end and strung a bunch of good [at-bats] together up and down the order. That's what it takes to win against some really good pitchers."
The freshman Wright finished 3-for-3 to pace SEMO's offense. He had a double, scored twice and reached base in all four of his plate appearances.
"If you watched him play in the fall, you would've thought we were going to cut him," Sawyers said about Wright. "He really, really struggled in the fall, but it never got to him. He's not scared at all.
"Three hits today -- he gets up there in the ninth inning, and the first strike he saw, he got a good look at it. He's really playing fearless right now."
With temperatures near the freezing mark and an opposing pitching staff that entered the game with a combined ERA of 2.15, Sawyers said he was expecting a low-scoring affair.
Without getting a hit, Southeast took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Chris Caffrey and Wright were issued back-to-back walks before Basler laid down the first of his two bunts, moving both runners into scoring position. Evans grounded out to the right side but sent Caffrey across home plate to give the Redhawks an early advantage.
Southeast added to its lead with a two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth. After Kylar Robertson reached on a walk and stole second, catcher Brian Lees sent a 2-2 pitch over the fence in left field, extending the Redhawks' lead to 3-0.
It was Lees' second homer of the season.
"That's a momentum shift," Holst said about the home run. "Brian's a great hitter. They left a fastball up for him, and he put a good part of the bat on it. He strung great at-bats together today. I think he's starting to feel more comfortable in the box, and I think he's only going to get better as the season progresses."
Austin Knight got the start for the Bears (12-4) and was relieved in the bottom of the fifth after giving up back-to-back singles by Wright and Basler. Jake Fromson got three strikeouts to end the inning but not before a wild pitch allowed Wright to score and push SEMO's lead to 4-0.
In the next half inning, MSU responded. Jake Burger was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a single by Jeremy Eierman before an RBI single by Justin Paulsen and a sacrifice fly by Ryan Skalnik pulled the Bears within 4-2.
Southeast pitcher Nate Green induced a pair of fly outs to retire the side and conclude his quality start at 92 pitches. He threw six innings, scattered six hits and allowed two earned runs with three strikeouts and one walk.
"One thing about Nate -- he might not have the greatest stuff in the OVC or on our team, but don't tell him that because he might fight you, I swear," Holst said. "He believes in himself -- that's the biggest thing. We know that every time he takes the bump, he's going to throw every pitch with conviction and 100 percent focus. That gives us a lot of confidence playing behind him.
"We want to play our best baseball when he's out there because he deserves it."
The 6-foot-5 Green, who transferred from Ventura College, improved his ERA to 2.45 on the season and was praised by his coach for turning in another competitive outing.
"He's really competitive," Sawyers said about Green. "He thinks he's way better than he is. He thinks he throws 93 (miles per hour). He acts like it. He's kind of cocky with me. He'll walk up and give me his opinion on what I should do, like pinch-hit wise. He's very comfortable in his own skin, and that's who he is.
"I think our fans are going to really like watching him pitch just because he is kind of fun. It's a different motion. It's kind of deceptive, and he kind of flings the glove at you. Here comes 78 (mph), and he pitches in. ... If you look at the cliche of pitching -- work fast, throw strikes, change speeds -- he does all those things. If you're good at all three of those things, you don't have to throw 93 miles per hour."
Carlos Vega took the mound to relieve Green, working a 1-2-3 seventh inning before the Bears tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the eighth.
Burger led off with a single and advanced to second on a passed ball before Eierman was hit by a pitch, setting up Paulsen, who followed with an RBI single that sent Eierman to third base. Vega struck out the next batter, Jack Duffy, to record the first out of the inning, but he was lifted in favor of reliever Matthew Wade. Pinch hitter Alex Jefferson grounded out to the right side but was able to plate Eierman for the game-tying run. Wade induced a fly out from the next batter, pinch hitter Ben Whetstone, stranding a runner in scoring position.
While Paulsen and Steinmetz each finished with three hits to lead MSU at the plate, it was Burger who dictated how the Redhawks managed the top of the ninth. After Aaron Meyer's bunt moved Steinmetz into scoring position with two outs, Burger stepped to the plate with an opportunity to give the Bears the lead. The Redhawks opted to intentionally walk the 6-2 slugger and instead recorded the final out off the bat of Eierman, who flew out to right.
Burger, a preseason first-team All-American by Baseball America, finished 2-for-3 and reached base in four of his five plate appearances.
"He's got big-league bat speed," Sawyers said about Burger, who's a projected first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. "He's a really good hitter. He's going to be a really good draft pick."
Wade (1-0) picked up the win on the mound, allowing one hit in 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Vega threw 1 1/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on two hits with three strikeouts and no walks.
"Vega, Wade -- I always trust them. They did a great job," Green said. "It's always good to have those guys behind you."
MSU closer Bryan Young (0-1) allowed his first run of the season and, as a result, was tagged with the loss. He gave up three hits and issued three walks in one inning of work.
Knight threw four innings, walked three batters and allowed four earned runs on three hits before giving way to Fromson, who pitched 3 1/3 innings and scattered two hits.
Southeast hitters were fanned 14 times, all of which were recorded by Knight and Fromson.
The Redhawks opened Ohio Valley Conference play by getting swept in a three-game series last weekend at Morehead State. They'll try to get back on track when they host UT Martin in a conference series, beginning at 6 p.m. Friday.
"We're just going to have to grind through this stuff because right now we're not going on all cylinders. Today we won, but we still punched out 14 times. It wasn't our best baseball," Sawyers said. "We just need to grind through this and keep competing as hard as we are, and I promise you we're going to get hot. We're going to go on a run. We just kind of have to stay the course."
Ezell missed his seventh straight game due to an upper-body injury and will remain out this weekend against UT Martin, according to Sawyers.
The team is hopeful Ezell will be able to return for next weekend's series at SIU-Edwardsville.
Ezell, a junior, is batting .276 in seven starts.